10 minutes at Supreme Court cost Wisconsin $60K

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 23: The U.S. Supreme Court is shown as the court meets to issue decisions May 23, 2016 in Washington, DC. The court today sided in a 7-1 decision written by Chief Justice John Roberts with a Georgia inmate on death row in his appeal to the court citing efforts by prosecutors to exclude African Americans from a jury panel in the murder case. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

MADISON — Wisconsin taxpayers footed a previously unknown $60,000 bill for an attorney to argue for 10 minutes before the U.S. Supreme Court in the state’s defense of a redistricting lawsuit, records obtained by The Associated Press show.

A summary of bills provided by the Republican leaders of the state Senate and Assembly through an open records request shows the law firm of Kirkland and Ellis was paid $60,000 to make the Supreme Court arguments in October. The cost wasn’t included in original contracts signed by Republican legislative leaders in February 2017.

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said when the contract was signed it wasn’t known whether Kirkland would appear in court or simply prepare legal briefs.

The Legislature asked for time to present its position during oral arguments, which resulted in the $60,000 bill on top of $175,000 paid to the law firm for other work, Fitzgerald spokesman Dan Romportl said.

The solicitor general for the Wisconsin Department of Justice had 20 minutes of time to defend the maps in the oral arguments in addition to the 10 minutes given to the attorney from Kirkland and Ellis.

The records show that another law firm that did work on the case, Bell Giftos St. John, has been paid $127,414 to date. The Legislature’s contract allowed for its attorneys to be paid $300 an hour with no limit on the total.

To date, just on the case before the Supreme Court, attorneys have been paid $362,414, the records show. That’s on top of more than $2.1 million that has been paid to attorneys in other lawsuits and legal work related to the maps.

“Politicians are rigging the maps, trying to avoid any real accountability, and they are picking our pockets to pay for it,” said Sachin Chheda, director of the Fair Elections Project, which organized and launched the case before the Supreme Court. “They’ve wasted millions of taxpayer dollars and Wisconsin voters are sick and tired of it.”

Matt Rothschild, director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign which tracks spending in politics, said it was “outrageous” how much has been spent defending the maps.

“Now we find out that they’ve sent $60,000 more than they told us they were going to spend for 10 minutes of some fancy lawyer’s time,” Rothschild said Friday. “That’s nice work if you can get it for the lawyer, but it’s not how our tax dollars should be spent.”

Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who approve spending on the case, did not immediately return messages seeking comment.

Democratic voters sued after Republicans drew political maps in 2011 that entrenched their hold on power in a state that is essentially evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans.

Wisconsin Republicans controlled the redistricting process that followed the once-every-decade census because they held the governor’s office and both houses of the Legislature. They worked in secret to fashion precise, computer-generated maps and won approval on a party-line vote.

The case, which the court has yet to decide, turns on whether the maps amount to illegal partisan gerrymandering designed to benefit Republicans.