Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul says Republican legislative leaders have wasted taxpayer money by paying private attorneys $19,670 so far to review proposed settlements under a lame-duck law he says doesn’t work.

So far, the GOP-controlled Joint Finance Committee has only signed off on one proposed settlement reached by the Department of Justice under the new attorney general. This comes after Republicans a year ago gave themselves new oversight powers.

Kaul twice in late summer went to the committee seeking approval of cases only to have discussions break down.

“The best thing I can say about it, I think, is we’ve managed to avoid a disaster so far,” Kaul told WisPolitics.com in a year-end interview on Dec. 13. “But at some point in time, there will be a case that has to be resolved quickly or else the state will lose out on a significant part of a recovery. That’s bad for taxpayers. It could be bad for people who need restitution. I’m hopeful that we’ll get this process changed.”

The state Supreme Court earlier this year heard oral arguments in a challenge to the extraordinary session laws that included the provision giving lawmakers oversight of proposed settlements reached by DOJ. Kaul said if the court doesn’t throw out the provision, he hopes lawmakers will change it after recognizing the process is unworkable.

As he has in the past, Kaul said the legislative oversight is incompatible with how complex case negotiations work and creates an impediment to persuading other parties to settle.

One of the cases Kaul tried to take before Joint Finance was a proposed multi-state settlement with Purdue Pharma, which was sued over its role in the opioid crisis as the manufacturer of OxyContin. JFC members from both parties refused to sign nondisclosure agreements before hearing details of the proposed settlement, and the process broke down.

Kaul later rejected joining a proposed multi-billion-dollar settlement with states and local governments to settle the suit, believing it didn’t go far enough. Instead, he decided to continue pursuing the state case he filed.

Kaul said the company filed for bankruptcy not long after the multi-state settlement was announced. It is now part of those bankruptcy proceedings, along with the state’s suit.

The AG said that however the bankruptcy case plays out, he doesn’t believe a proposed agreement to settle the state suit would be subject to the lame-duck laws. He said that statute refers to civil actions pursued by DOJ, but a bankruptcy proceeding wouldn’t qualify.

“One of the challenges of this law is it clearly didn’t think through the many scenarios that arise in real cases,” Kaul said.

In the interview, Kaul also said:

  • He will continue pushing for “common-sense measures” after he previously called for lawmakers to approve a so-called “red flag law” and legislation to expand background checks. Gov. Tony Evers called a special session on the bills earlier in fall 2019, but GOP legislative leaders quickly gaveled it in and out.
  • He hasn’t started to think about whether he will seek reelection in 2022. “I’m focused at this point at doing the job and what’s in the best interest of Wisconsinites,” Kaul said. He’s also been mentioned as a possible governor candidate someday, but said he is focused on his current job.

The Capitol Report is written by editorial staff at WisPolitics.com, a nonpartisan, Madison-based news service that specializes in coverage of government and politics, and is distributed for publication by members of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association.

(1) comment

Gene Ralno

Clearly red flag laws have triggered the national movement for 2nd Amendment Sanctuary counties. And we’re already witnessing a sea change in the sanctuary movement. I've always understood that these partisan and unconstitutional laws could be defeated by simply denying assistance to federal or state law enforcement.

The obvious reason is federal and state resources alone are woefully inadequate to enforce such things as red flag or magazine violations and could not begin to undertake such efforts without local law enforcement assistance. If deputizing hundreds of thousands to actively resist federal and state efforts is representative of the whole movement, it’s a single issue rebellion which could rapidly expand.

Hundreds of counties already have proclaimed sanctuary status and almost 70 percent of the counties nationwide are projected to declare allegiance to the Constitution and refusal to enforce laws that violate it. That would comprise 472 counties with only one murder per year plus 1,700 counties that have no murders at all. If that materializes, one desirable result would force federal and state enforcement to start with the 63 counties where half the nation’s murders occur.

This movement is understandable because the fact is, red flag laws were created to dilute power licensed to the psychiatric community. These laws transfer power to unqualified persons more obedient to democrats, e.g., local judges and crotchety old aunts. Due process requires reports from two psychiatrists, one from each side, legal representation, arraignment, indictment and trial by jury.

Nobody wants criminals to have firearms but to be taken seriously, if the accused is a danger to himself or others, he should be legally arrested. In other words, take the man but leave the guns. The line of inheritance codified in state laws determines the legal custodian of any property. Politicians on both sides who support this notion will regret the day they ever heard of red flag laws.

Their legacies will carry a Supreme Court scolding and perhaps be the landmark of their careers. Writers, politicians and demonstrators have been hoodwinked by Bloomberg's rhetoric and haven’t read his 2018 data. It reveals gun homicides declined seven percent, firearm injuries declined 10 percent, fatal child shootings (under 18) declined 12 percent and unintentional shootings plummeted 21 percent.

None of this hysteria is justified. Since 1991, the murder rate has fallen by 45 percent and the overall violent crime rate has fallen by 48 percent. It's bizarre that Bloomberg wants to change all that. Since 1999, the statistical probability of a student being killed in school, on any given day by a gun has been one in 614 million. Your odds of winning the lottery are 1 in 300 million. The chances of your child being kidnapped are about one in 300,000. Bloomberg says the nation is in crisis, suffering an epidemic. Folks, there is no crisis, no epidemic.

Shooting incidents involving students have been declining since the '90s. Fact is all but three mass shooters in recent history passed background checks. Two stole their rifles. The other one bought from a guy who assembled it from parts and sold it from home. Murders committed by all types of rifles combined, in 2018, dropped by 23.9 percent. According to the FBI, out of 14,123 homicides in 2018, only 297 (2.1%) were committed by rifles.

During that time, citizens were buying a record number of firearms. In 2018, more than 26 million requests were submitted to the National Instant Background System, a general indicator of firearms purchased. That number was exceeded only by 27.5 million in 2016 when purchasers were mortified that Hillary might be elected. Democrats want US citizens to believe making the U.S. safer for criminals will make it safer for their victims. Ask yourself, do you believe being disarmed makes you safer? What kind of political leader would disarm his people while howling about the peril they face?

These laws have not considered all the possible areas they might harm. For example, what if a crotchety old aunt complained about a blustery nephew who also is a Federal Firearms Licensee and established dealer? What if the nephew is a licensee who operates a pawn shop? What if the nephew stores a neighbor's firearms because his safe is large enough? What about a nephew whose firearms are stored somewhere else? And so on.

The Supreme Court isn't about to jeopardize its own reputation by reducing the ability of private citizens to defend themselves. It's especially important because currently, half the nation's murders occur in only 63 counties while the other half are spread across the other 3,081 counties. Said another way, 15 percent had one murder and 54 percent of the nation’s counties had no murders at all.

Besides, they’re sick of our paralyzed congress creating ambiguous laws that ultimately land in the Supreme Court. They know it’s easy to blame the tools used for murder and to write acts that impede acquisition by peaceable, lawful citizens.

They know it’s far more difficult to focus on the more complex reality of why incomprehensible murderers do what they do. If something is to be done, perhaps it should be focused on the mental defectives, criminals, terrorists and illegal aliens.

Welcome to the discussion.

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