By Brendan Fischer on April 23, 2013

New federal court filings allege that hundreds of thousands of Republican redistricting files in Wisconsin were deleted last year, in defiance of court orders to turn over all documents. The deletions fit into a pattern of the Wisconsin GOP covering their tracks and could result in sanctions for the attorneys or individuals involved in deleting the files.

Wisconsin Senate Majority Leader Scott FitzgeraldAccording to the April 18 court filings, a forensic analysis of computers used during redistricting indicates multiple files were deleted just after Republicans were instructed to turn them over to Democrats -- but before they had actually done so.

In January 2012, after the three-judge federal panel hearing a Democratic challenge to the redistricting maps ordered Republicans to produce all redistricting-related records, someone with the user name of an aide to Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald logged-on to GOP computers and deleted files and folders. In July, just after Democrats took control of the state senate and asked for the entire redistricting folder, another Fitzgerald aide's login was used to delete hundreds of thousands of records.

Though the legal challenge to the redistricting maps was resolved over a year ago, mounting evidence of deleted files and possible misrepresentation by Republicans and their attorneys led the court to order a forensic analysis of the computers to recover deletions and assess the level of wrongdoing.

The entire redistricting process has been marked by an unprecedented level of secrecy. And the stakes are high for the Republican legislature's law firm, Michael Best & Friedrich, whose lawyers have been sharply criticized by the court for their handling of the case. Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus is a partner at the Wisconsin-based firm, though he is currently on leave while he leads the RNC.

"Shameful" and "Needlessly Secret" Redistricting Kept Public in Dark

With Republicans in charge of the Assembly, Senate, and Governor's mansion after the 2010 election, they had the legislative majority to gerrymander congressional maps to their party's benefit, and did so in the offices of Michael Best & Friedrich, apparently to try and keep the process protected under attorney-client privilege. The maps were promptly challenged by immigrant rights group Voces de la Frontera, and the federal court hearing the case sharply criticized Republican lawmakers for conducting redistricting under a veil of secrecy and shutting the public out of the process, calling it "shameful," "sharply partisan," and "needlessly secret."

In December 2011, the court demanded that Republicans turn over nearly all documents related to redistricting, but the GOP and their lawyers at Michael Best & Friedrich continued working to keep the material confidential -- leading the court to fine the attorneys $17,500 in fees for filing frivolous motions.

As the federal court ruled on Wisconsin's maps in February of 2012, the Center for Media and Democracy (publishers of PRwatch.org) revealed that the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) had invited legislators to redistricting conference calls, based on emails obtained through earlier open records requests to Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald.

The emails CMD obtained were not released to the lawyers challenging the maps. But they should have been. This failure to release all redistricting-related documents opened a new round of legal wrangling, with the court questioning what other documents Republican legislators and their lawyers had kept secret. Additional documents that should have been produced were found when Democrats took control of the state senate after the July 2012 recall elections and obtained access to the Republican redistricting file.

In February of 2013, the Court ordered Republicans to turn over computers used in redistricting for expert forensic analysis, because judges found that "fraud, misrepresentation, or misconduct" likely occurred.

According to the April 18 court filings, the analysis so far indicates files were deleted on at least two separate occasions: on January 6, "just after the Court's order [to turn over the documents] and just before the legislature's supplemental production," and on July 25, which was one week "after majority control of the state senate shifted [and] the new majority leader requested Michael Best's redistricting file," and one week before "Michael Best turned over its redistricting file to the new senate majority leader."

Fitzgerald ORR response

In other contexts, CMD has encountered patterns of Republican legislators deleting files, thanks to a loophole in the state open records law exempting legislators from records retention rules that apply to all other government officials. Sen. Fitzgerald -- whose office is at the center of the redistricting litigation -- in the past had released hundreds of documents in response to requests for ALEC-related records, but is now issuing replies like this one to a records request for ALEC communications: "If we did receive materials (from ALEC), either electronically or via mail, those materials were discarded upon receipt."

Taxpayer Costs of Defending Secrecy Continue to Rise

Recent court filings show that over $100,000 has been spent on the initial stages of the forensic analysis, largely because of the complexity of reconstructing deleted files. Wiping software that could have been used to remove electronic data and hide deleted files had been installed on some hard drives, further complicating the reconstruction. According to the court filings, two-thirds of the costs moving forward will be incurred in locating and reconstructing the deleted files. "Had data not been deleted, the investigation could proceed at a fraction of the cost," the filings state.

Plaintiffs are seeking to have the legislature -- or its attorneys -- cover the cost of the examination before continuing.

So far, taxpayers have been on the hook for at least $2 million in legal fees to defend the GOP's "shameful" redistricting effort, and costs will likely continue to rise.

Brendan Fischer

Brendan Fischer is CMD's General Counsel. He graduated with honors from the University of Wisconsin Law School.

Comments

why do the people in wisconsin keeo voting these people back in office time after time? a big complaint about walker and whenthe time came to vote him out, the people of wisconsin still voted him back in at the expense of people losing their jobs-and now look what you have. iknow this just doesb't happen in wisconsin, but hey we need to wake up here and get these people out of office-

Your comments and questions are ironic, to say the least. You ask, "why do people, who are voting in a system heavily skewed to partisan redistricting, continue to support the very people who corrupted the system?"
The answer is in the question itself.

Well that's the thing here in WI people were not pushing to have Walker removed it was largely the Dem busing people in from out of state (namely IL). Most people here are not against the gov. and are fairly pleased with what we have seen (i mean he did just renew a deal with China for 10 years and is in the works on getting a deal for water tech) however you will still find the odd ball extremist who simply hates anything and everything that he does. Walker winning the recall had nothing to do with redistricting (which didn't happen) it had to do with the large majority (more then he won the first time with) supporting him and those "protesters" being sent back to where they came from. I find it interesting that Dem's and this article are so quick to throw accusations after what they pulled with Walker and seeing that go for years,wasting millions and coming up with nothing at all

I can see the bar for discussion is high, as one must copy five characters into a box and press a button. You obviously have the minimal level of credibility for posting at the bottom of an article, but you seem to lack the advantage of accurate information that other pretenders to journalism might at least try to convince others they understand. If you think the protesters were from out of state, you probably picked up your news from FOX, the post crescent, or the local news for Waukesha.

Walker winning the recall had a fair amount to do with redistricting, but more to do with the RNC funding Walker to the tune of literally 10 times as much campaign funding as the why-did-they-choose-him-he-already-failed democratic candidate.

Anyway, my initial point stands: denying the facts that are clearly stated in a reputable journalist's article does nothing but make you sound like a loon, especially when the facts are on record and publicly accessible. Please go crawl under whatever rock you made your way out from under, and next time remember that calling facts lies will sway absolutely NO ONE to your narrow, prescriptive view of the world.

Thanks, yours truly,
one of hundreds of thousands of actual wisconsinites that was there at the capitol witnessing events firsthand.

I know many teachers and union members FROM Wisconsin were involved in protests AGAINST Gov. Wanker. Poll show that the conservanazi prick Wanker is not as popular as you have people believe.

I think a lot of Wisconsin residents who were in the protests would be surprised to learn that you believe the propaganda that they were from Illinois. Of course you will find the oddball extremist who will believe anything their party says whether true or not. Divide and conquer .. that is the mantra of the Republican party .. pit people against one another. That way they are too busy fighting one another to look out for their own best interests. Let's just wait and see if you are so enamored of Walker in another two years.

Bull*hit. The vast majority of people at the demonstrations were from Wisconsin, which you would know if you would let reality intrude on the Walker-besotted lump of fat that sits inside the thick walls of your cranium. The very fact that you present this slipshod bit of GOP deceit as fact demonstrates that your opinion is worthless, and that you cannot be trusted to choose your own salad dressing, much less have a voice in any political process.

Not exactly: what planet are you on? the dems did NOT bus people in from anywhere...if you read the papers, the ONLY people bused in here were from the republicans who were trying to screw up the recall petitions & were trying to get a few democratic senators recalled. They were even arrested for the crap they were trying to pull! The majority of WI is against Walkers agenda, but he bought and paid for his election and re election. You really need to step out of the fanatasy world your living in and quit with the lies...you are as bad as Walker & company! Or maybe you are paid by Walker to tell more lies.

Are you really pleased with the state now being 44th in the nation for jobs? The sentence accusing Dems from Illinois being bussed to Wisconsin shows right away that you will believe anything dished out to you. Those "protesters" were teachers, firefighters, corrections officers, social workers, police, and farmers... you know... those thugs who work for the benefit of their commnunities. And yours. Odd ball extremist my eyeball.

Wow, 60,000 people came from Illinois?

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