Republicans hired Michael Best & Friedrich last year to help them draw the maps, with the firm signing separate contracts with the Assembly and Senate. One of those contracts - written when the GOP controlled both houses - says "our client is the Wisconsin State Senate by its majority leader, Scott L. Fitzgerald."Fitzgerald is no longer the leader of the majority, only the leader of the Republicans. The Democrats also have a leader.
Democrats for the last 15 months have contended they should have equal access to Michael Best because the contract was with the entire Senate. Republicans balked, barring them from consulting with the attorneys.Meanwhile, there is litigation in federal court about the redistricting, and the 3-judge panel just held that 2 of the Milwaukee districts had diluted the voting power of Latinos and needed to be redrawn. Of course, the split senate can't get anywhere in this assigned task.
Now that Democrats share power with the Republicans, they want a chance to review privileged files and help direct what actions the law firm takes next....
But Fitzgerald said that he had spoken with the firm and that the arrangement would continue as it did when Republicans had outright control of the Senate.
"I'm still dealing directly with them," Fitzgerald said. "They said the contract is still between Senator Fitzgerald and the firm. . . . That relationship is still intact."
Michael Best attorney Eric McLeod confirmed the firm would continue to take direction from Fitzgerald.
"Until there's a change in the contract via some action taken by the Senate, we're simply operating under the contract as it was previously written," McLeod said.
Rick Esenberg, president of the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, said it is hard to know if Michael Best can continue to represent the majority "since there is no majority."Tax money goes to pay these lawyers, which might make it seem as though the Democrats are entitled to access to them as well. But consider that the Democrats, when they had the majority before January 2011, hired their own lawyers for redistricting work, paid them with taxpayer money, required the Republicans to get their own legal representation, and refused to allocate money for those lawyers. It's been a long fight between 2 parties, and they have had their own lawyers.
He said it is unclear if the firm can represent both the Republicans and Democrats, or if that would create a conflict of interest that would require the firm to step aside. He also noted the Democrats and Republicans in the Senate could retain separate counsel. Or, the Republicans could have Michael Best continue its work solely through its contract with the Assembly, he said. Whatever the case, there may not be much work left that needs to be done because the case is nearing its end, he said.