Attorney Jim Troupis has asked a judge to disqualify the law firm bringing a case against him and the Republicans who signed paperwork attempting to hand Wisconsin’s Electoral College votes to Donald Trump — alleging he has an attorney-client relationship with the firm as part of an estate plan.
The lawsuit was filed in May and alleges the 10 Republicans broke several criminal and civil laws when they met at the state Capitol on Dec. 14, 2020, to sign official-looking documents asserting that Trump won the state. The suit also names Troupis, a former Republican-appointed Dane County judge who represented Trump in a failed effort to overturn Wisconsin’s 2020 election results, and Boston-area lawyer Kenneth Chesebro, who advised the Republicans.
Attorneys for Troupis note in a Wednesday court filing that he and his wife retained law firm Stafford Rosenbaum in late 2019 and had been working with attorney Johanna Allex to develop and prepare an estate plan, which involved providing the law firm with “intensely private and confidential matters and information about their family, assets, and finance.”
While the estate plan has not been finalized, Troupis considers himself a client of Stafford Rosenbaum. Attorneys with the firm earlier this year “filed a lengthy and publicized complaint accusing Troupis of engaging in a civil conspiracy, which in turn invoked several federal and criminal statutes,” Troupis’ attorneys wrote.
“Feeling betrayed, ambushed, and embarrassed by Stafford, his counsel of choice, Troupis requests that Stafford be disqualified from representing the Plaintiffs in this litigation,” his attorneys added.
Stafford Rosenbaum attorney Jeffrey Mandell, who brought the case against Troupis, Chesebro and the 10 Republicans, said Allex is not a litigator and has no involvement in the lawsuit.
“We are confident that we have lived up to all of our ethical obligations, all of our responsibilities to our clients, we take those things very seriously,” Mandell said.
“They don’t want to answer for their actual conduct so they want to fight about a minor technicality that doesn’t even apply here,” he added.
Fines and damages
Troupis contends that the financial information provided to the law firm as part of preparing an estate plan is relevant to the lawsuit, as it seeks punitive damages from the defendants.
The lawsuit seeks more than $2.4 million in damages, including $2,000 fines for the Republicans and their attorneys, and up to $200,000 in punitive damages for each plaintiff. It alleges the Republicans and their attorneys broke multiple laws, including counterfeiting public records, illegally interfering with official procedures, defrauding the public and engaging in conspiracy.
The lawsuit alleges that, by doing so, the individuals played a role in the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
But before a judge rules on Troupis’ motion to disqualify Stafford Rosenbaum, the first question is which court will take up the matter. Defendants in the case have asked that it go before U.S. District Court as it pertains to the presidential election, but Mandell contends the matter is a state issue and the suit should remain in Dane County Circuit Court, where it was filed.
“The fundamental claims in this case, civil conspiracy, public nuisance … those are all creatures of state law and this case, at the end of the day, will be decided on state law and therefore does not qualify for the federal court’s limited jurisdiction,” Mandell said.
Ties to Trump
The meeting of Republicans occurred following advice from attorneys with close ties to Trump. Documents have underscored efforts by those in Trump’s inner circle to circumvent the Electoral College process in several states, including Wisconsin, following the 2020 election, despite recounts and court decisions affirming that Democrat Joe Biden defeated Trump in the battleground state by almost 21,000 votes.
The Republicans have said the meeting was to preserve their legal options amid litigation surrounding the election.
The meeting took place on the same day that the Democratic slate of Wisconsin electors convened in the Capitol building to deliver the state’s 10 electoral votes to President-elect Biden. It also occurred after the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that Biden had won the election and a month after Wisconsin county clerks canvassed the presidential election results.
Texts unveiled last month by the U.S. House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection revealed Troupis tried to get U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, to pass documents falsely stating Trump won Wisconsin to then-Vice President Mike Pence on Jan. 6. Pence refused to go along with the scheme.
The office of U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly, of Pennsylvania, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Thursday that a three-week internal review conducted by his office found little information on Johnson’s comments that his staffer spoke with Kelly’s former chief of staff about the false elector scheme.
Mandell’s lawsuit follows a March decision by the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission to unanimously deny a complaint filed by Mandell that sought sanctions against the 10 Republicans, including Republican commissioner Robert Spindell, who signed the official-looking documents.
Others to sign the documents in Wisconsin include former chair of the state Republican Party Andrew Hitt; 8th Congressional District GOP chair Kelly Ruh; 1st Congressional District GOP vice chair Carol Brunner; Dane County Republican Party chair Scott Grabins; La Crosse County Republican Party chair Bill Feehan; 5th Congressional District GOP chair Kathy Kiernan; 6th Congressional District GOP chair Darryl Carlson; 1st Congressional District GOP vice chair Pam Travis; and Mary Buestrin, vice chair of the Midwest region for the Republican National Committee.
Hitt and Ruh were subpoenaed earlier this year by the U.S. House committee investigating the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
The state Republican Party has not responded to questions on whether any of the electors or others within the party have been subpoenaed as part of other investigations into the events that led to the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection.
Photos: Voters cast ballots throughout Madison