Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen’s lawsuit over voter registration gained more controversy as the Republican Party of Wisconsin admitted Monday to speaking with top Van Holen aides just before the lawsuit was filed earlier this month.
The suit will be considered in court today.
Van Hollen sued the Government Accountability Board in the middle of the month over its decision to check new voter registration starting Aug. 6, 2008 rather than go back to Jan. 1, 2006, as required by the Help America Vote Act of 2002.
With the suit decried as a partisan effort to disenfranchise voters, Van Hollen has been criticized by the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, the Government Accountability Board and partisan interest groups, claiming the lawsuit was brought about in conjunction with the Republican Party of Wisconsin.
In the beginning of the lawsuit, Van Hollen and his spokesperson Kevin St. John denied any contact was made between the Republican Party and the Department of Justice, saying “the attorney general does not use any consultation with any political party of interest group to determine whether or not an action is appropriate.”
However, Republican Party of Wisconsin Chairman Reince Priebus told the Wisconsin State Journal Monday he had a number of contacts with Van Hollen top aide Deputy Attorney General Ray Taffora before the lawsuit was filed and also criticized the election agency in Van Hollen’s presence at the Republican National Convention.
Rebublican Party of Wisconsin Communications Director Kirsten Kukowski evaded comment Tuesday, saying this “has become a circus over the last week, and we’re losing sight of the real issue.”
“Even if we had contact with the attorney general or his aide or the Department of Justice, it would have been proper and appropriate either way,” Kukowski said. “The Department of Justice is the only entity that can enforce when a state agency isn’t doing its job.”
The Government Accountability Board was supposed to be in compliance with HAVA starting in January 2002. However, it received a continuance from the federal government to be ready by January 2006. Two-and-a-half years later, the board has now created its database but is still not in compliance, according to Kukowski.
“We just want to end this and make sure what our intentions and goals are clear, and it’s kind of getting lost,” Kukowski said.
The next court date is set for today, when Judge Maryann Sumi will decide on the motions to intervene by both the Democratic and Republican parties of Wisconsin, as well as the motion to disqualify the attorney general from the case, as brought about by the Government Accountability Board.
Government Accountability Board attorney Lester Pines explained Van Hollen should be disqualified because at the time of the suit he was representing the board in three other lawsuits.
“The board’s position is that it is a current client of the attorney general and that when you are a current client, a lawyer cannot sue a current client unless the client consents to be sued,” Pines said. “The board was neither asked nor did it give its consent to be sued.”
However, Department of Justice spokesperson William Cosh disagrees, saying the rules are not same for attorneys general as they are for regular attorneys.
“There is no legal reason why he should be disqualified,” Cosh said. “While a private attorney is ordinarily from suing a current client, that does not and never has applied to nation’s attorney general when they sue as prosecutors.”