Will taxpayers have to pay for Speaker Vos' legal fees?

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MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Taxpayers could be on the hook to pay legal fees after Assembly Speaker Robin Vos was found in contempt of court for failing to turn over records related to the ongoing election investigation.

On Wednesday, Dane County Judge Valerie Bailey-Rihn ruled Vos violated the state's open record laws by not turning documents that were deleted or lost tied to Assembly Republicans' review of the 2020 election.

The Rochester Republican and the Assembly now have less than two weeks to produce the documents and pay $1,000 a day if they fail to do so, according to the ruling.

Vos approved the $676,000 taxpayer-funded election investigation being led by retired Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman, but it's unclear how much money is left. The review, along with legal costs, could have already exceeded Gableman's budget.

That means it's possible taxpayers might have to foot the bill if Vos can't locate the missing records, political science experts say.

"It's not clear who will end up paying these costs if the Assembly Speaker ends up incurring them," said Barry Burden, UW-Madison political science professor and founding director of the Elections Research Center. "It may be the taxpayer if it comes out of Gableman's investigation and is viewed as part of that expense."

Vos could also offer to pay for the expenses himself or request Gableman to, Burden added.

"This is a territory we haven't seen before," said Burden. "This was really a smackdown by the judge."

Vos told a reporter with the Racine Journal Times he's already tried to recover the deleted emails after hiring an expert.

"I don’t know about you, but when you have deleted emails, how do you get deleted emails back if they’re from Gmail? We already have an expert saying they can’t be done," Vos said.

Vos criticized the judge's order, but didn't say whether he'll appeal the decision. Instead he said he'll consult with his attorneys.

"We have followed the law," Vos said. "There is no problem with what we’re doing. It’s really them trying to stop our investigation."

If the GOP leader is unable to find the records he will have to present the judge with an explanation.

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