Election investigation: Vos cellphone searches ending, judge says

Robin Vos

A judge on Thursday declined to order any additional searches for deleted text messages or emails on Assembly Speaker Robin Vos's cellphone, or phones used by two of his staff members, after an expert testified about how difficult it would be to retrieve anything.

The messages are being sought by the liberal watchdog group American Oversight. It filed open records requests for messages related to the taxpayer-funded investigation Vos ordered into the 2020 presidential election being led by former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman.

Vos's attorney, Ronald Stadler, told the judge that all three phones had already been searched for any responsive records and it would be impossible to retrieve any messages that were deleted. An expert hired by Stadler, Sean Harrington, testified that he had not looked at the phones in question, but described how difficult it would be to retrieve deleted messages.

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There's no point to spend any more time or money on trying to recover the deleted messages, Dane County Circuit Judge Valerie Bailey-Rihn said. She also expressed concern about separating relevant messages and those that aren't on a private cellphone, even ones owned by an elected official and staff members paid by taxpayers.

Vos's attorney did turn over to the judge what he said were between 10,000 and 20,000 deleted emails from Vos's legislative email addresses that were responsive to search requests from American Oversight.

Wisconsin State Capitol, Madison

Wisconsin State Capitol, Madison

The group's attorney, Christa Westerberg, said she had not had a chance to review all of the messages that were turned over Wednesday to see if they were responsive. She said many of the messages appeared to be duplicates and from years before the time period requested.

The judge was also reviewing some emails that Vos turned over that he said were protected under attorney-client privilege.

Bailey-Rihn set another hearing date on July 21 for final arguments.

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The case is one of three lawsuits seeking records from Vos and Gableman. In another lawsuit, Bailey-Rihn last week found Vos and the Assembly in contempt for failing to produce records created by Gableman as requested by American Oversight. She gave Vos and the Assembly 14 days to release the records or face a $1,000 daily fine.

Vos extended Gableman's contract through the end of April, but the ongoing lawsuits will likely mean that it will extend beyond that.

The Waukesha County judge hearing a lawsuit over the subpoenas has set a July 11 hearing to decide if Gableman has the authority to demand that the mayors of the state’s five largest cities and other officials be jailed for not cooperating.

Michael Gableman

Vos last month also floated the possibility of abandoning the subpoenas Gableman issued to mayors, elections officials and others, but he has yet to take that step. Withdrawing the subpoenas would all-but end the Gableman investigation.

President Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump by about 21,000 votes in Wisconsin, an outcome that has withstood recounts, a nonpartisan audit, other reviews and multiple lawsuits.

Gableman began his investigation nearly a year ago in June. He is being paid $11,000 a month under a contract Vos signed for $676,000 in taxpayer money. His latest contract extension did not include any additional salary for Gableman, but it did cover attorneys' fees for the ongoing litigation.

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