Wisconsin taxpayers to pay half the cost of redistricting consultants hired by Supreme Court

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin taxpayers will pay half of the $128,000 bill submitted by redistricting consultants hired by the state's Supreme Court for the work they did reviewing proposed legislative maps, the liberal majority of the court ordered Monday.

Conservative justices dissented, sharply criticizing the majority for hiring the consultants and not divulging more information about the work they did and details of the charges. They called the court's order a “brazen imposition of judicial will.”

The court hired a pair of redistricting consultants to review maps submitted by Republicans and Democrats after it tossed out Republican-drawn maps as unconstitutional. After the consultants determined that the Republican submissions were partisan gerrymanders, the GOP-controlled Legislature passed maps drawn by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers.

He signed them into law in February, giving Democrats a path to possibly gaining majority control of the Legislature after more than a decade in the minority.

The Supreme Court in its order Monday ruled that the costs will be evenly shared by the parties in the case, which included six groups that submitted proposed maps. The parties on the hook for the money include Evers, Republican and Democratic legislators — all funded by taxpayers — as well as three groups of voters, which were represented by private attorneys.

The charges came out to $21,359 for each of the six parties, or just under $64,100 from taxpayers.

Justice Rebecca Dallet, writing for the liberal majority, commended the consultants for their work. She said they “performed their duties ethically, transparently, and substantially under budget.”

But Chief Justice Annette Ziegler, writing in a dissent, said that “transparency is glaringly absent.” She faulted the bill submitted by the consultants as being “woefully inadequate” and lacking detail. The dissenting justices also took aim at the hiring of the consultants in the first place, saying the liberal majority lacked the authority to enter into the contract.

“Legitimate questions remain unanswered, including the report’s language which shields from scrutiny whether and what might be undocumented hidden communications between members of this court or the Director’s office and these ‘consultants,’” Ziegler wrote.

Dallet said “ there were no ex parte communications between the court and the Consultants concerning the contents of their report. Those who suggest otherwise are reading boilerplate language in the report about confidentiality out of context.”

The bulk of the charges come from the two main consultants hired at $450 an hour.

Jonathan Cervas, of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, submitted a $62,721 bill for more than 139 hours of work. Cervas redrew New York’s congressional and state Senate maps after a court struck down ones adopted by the Democratic-led Legislature.

Bernard Grofman, of the University of California, Irvine, submitted a $39,762 bill for more than 88 hours of work. He helped redraw Virginia’s federal and state legislative districts after a bipartisan commission deadlocked.

Fees from three other research assistants came to just short of $26,000.

The contract had allowed for the consultants to be paid up to $100,000 each.