Wisconsin judge orders the release of records sought from fake Trump elector
Aug 4, 2023, 2:11 PM | Updated: 2:30 pm
A Wisconsin judge on Friday ordered the state elections commission to release all records it has related to one of its Republican members and his role as one of 10 people who posed as fake electors in 2020 for former President Donald Trump.
The lawsuit, filed by a union leader represented by the liberal firm Law Forward, sought commission records related to Robert Spindell and comments he made about his role as a fake elector. Spindell is one of three Republican state elections commission members.
Fake electors met in Wisconsin and six other battleground states where Trump was defeated in 2020, attempting to cast ballots for the former president even though he lost. Republicans who participated in Wisconsin said they were trying to preserve Trump’s legal standing in case courts overturned his defeat.
The role of those fake electors, particularly in Wisconsin, was central to the federal indictment against Trump released this week. Trump pleaded not guilty Thursday to trying to overturn the results of his 2020 election loss.
Law Forward filed a complaint with the Wisconsin Elections Commission in 2021 saying the fake electors broke the law. The commission voted unanimously in a closed meeting to reject that complaint, saying the fake electors did not violate any election laws. Spindell did not recuse himself from considering the complaint, even though he voted as one of the fake GOP electors.
The Wisconsin Department of Justice agreed with Trump allies and the fake electors and concluded that Republicans were legitimately trying to preserve his legal standing as courts were deciding if he or Biden won the election.
In May, another state judge ordered the elections commission to reconsider its vote rejecting the complaint. Dane County Circuit Judge Frank Remington ruled that Spindell should not have taken part in the initial discussion and vote because he was targeted in the complaint.
The commission has not yet issued a new decision.
Law Forward alleged in its lawsuit that the commission failed to turn over records requested multiple times under Wisconsin’s open records law. The firm sought documents related to a comment Spindell made during the public portion of a November 2021 commission meeting where he openly discussed his decision not to recuse himself. The commission had been considering the request in closed session only, which made Spindell’s comments unusual.
Specifically, Law Forward asked for communications surrounding material that Spindell appeared to be reading from during the meeting. According to the lawsuit, the elections commission provided a single document that resembled what Spindell read from and said Spindell had no other related records.
The commission argued that the records are in Spindell’s possession, not the commission’s.
“This argument is nonsensical,” Dane County Circuit Judge Jacob Frost ruled on Friday. “Records held by WEC commissioners are in the custody of WEC and must be provided in response to a records request.”
He gave the commission until Sept. 8 to “perform a complete review and produce all records in its possession, whether held by staff or commissioners” that aren’t otherwise exempt from the open records law.
Commission spokesperson Riley Vetterkind had no comment on the ruling.
Law Forward attorney Scott Thompson praised it.
“Most of us believe in open and transparent government,” Thompson said. “This is doubly true as we seek to gather more information about those who sought to undermine the will of the people.”
Law Forward brought the case on behalf of Paul Sickel, executive director of the Service Employees International Union’s Wisconsin State Council.
The firm has also filed another lawsuit against the 10 electors and Trump attorneys Kenneth Chesebro and Jim Troupis seeking $2.4 million in damages. That case, which is pending, alleges Trump and his allies conspired to overturn his loss in the battleground state.