MADISON, Wis. - A Wisconsin judge on Thursday ordered Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos to produce deleted emails in response to an open records request filed by the liberal watchdog group American Oversight seeking documents related to an investigation into the 2020 election.
Dane County Circuit Judge Valerie Bailey-Rihn also ordered Vos to search his private email accounts and text messages for any relevant deleted messages.
"If there is a reason why they can’t be produced, I want to know," she said.
The case is one of three seeking records from Vos and the investigator he hired, former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman, who is leading a probe into the 2020 election won by President Joe Biden. Gableman released his most recent report last week, and this week Vos extended his contract through the end of April.
Vos signed that contract the same day that a different judge released more than 700 pages of emails and documents Gableman produced in response to another American Oversight lawsuit.
Vos and American Oversight have been fighting for five months over what records he has in response to numerous open records requests filed by American Oversight. The group wants to ask questions of a former Vos employee who was in charge of his email accounts, but who has since left the office.
The judge ordered that she either sit for a deposition or someone from Vos' office respond to questions on her behalf.
Vos’ attorney, Ronald Stadler, told the judge that deleted emails could be retrieved from his government accounts, but not from his private Gmail account. Deleted text messages also were not retrievable, he said.
American Oversight attorney Christa Westerberg disagreed and said Vos hadn't even investigated whether retrieving the deleted messages was possible.
"I don’t think that’s an insurmountable barrier," Westerberg said.
The judge gave Vos until March 23 to provide the deleted messages, or explain why they can't be retrieved, respond to four other open records requests they have yet to answer and either produce the former employee or answer the questions on her behalf. She also encouraged both sides to conclude the lawsuit that was filed in October.
Wisconsin Capitol in Madison
"We need to start moving this along and wrapping this up," Bailey-Rihn said.
In addition to American Oversight's three lawsuits, there are two others pending related to subpoenas Gableman issued to state and local elections officials and the mayors of Madison and Green Bay. The contract extension Vos signed this week provides funding only for Gableman to continue fighting the lawsuits and calls for them to discuss whether to shut the investigation down once the lawsuits have concluded.
Biden won Wisconsin by just under 21,000 votes, an outcome that has withstood recounts, lawsuits and multiple reviews.