MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republicans who control the Legislature’s budget committee signed off Thursday on the state’s first settlement under laws that granted them oversight of Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul’s legal negotiations.
The deal was relatively low-stakes and Republicans and Kaul still haven’t reached any broad agreement on how to handle settlements. Both sides remain at loggerheads over how to proceed, delaying settlements in nearly 20 other cases.
“This whole process remains an absolute disaster,” said Rep. Evan Goyke, a Democratic budget committee member.
Republicans passed laws during a December lame-duck session that require Kaul to get the budget committee’s permission to settle cases. But Kaul has refused to share any information with the committee about potential settlements. He maintains that negotiations are confidential, resulting in a stalemate that has left potentially millions of dollars in potential settlement revenue for the state in limbo.
Kaul this week asked the committee to approve a deal in a 2017 case against a Milwaukee mini-mart accused of selling synthetic cannabinoids. With a trial scheduling conference set for Nov. 15, both sides decided to waive confidentiality so the budget committee could sign off quickly.
None of the defendants appeared before the committee. No one from the Justice Department appeared before the panel, either. Department spokeswoman Gillian Drummond said after the meeting that the committee co-chairs didn’t ask them to speak. Nathan Schwanz, an aide to Republican Rep. John Nygren, a committee co-chair, said no committee members had questions for department officials.
That left Anne Sappenfield, director of the Legislature’s attorney corps, to describe the settlement terms to the panel. She said the deal calls for the mini-mart owners and operators to pay the state $350,000.
The committee gave its unanimous approval.
Committee Democrats noted that although this individual case was resolved, the committee still hasn’t established an overall protocol for handling settlements. They said settlements in 18 cases await approval.
“This continues to be just a really, really poor process you all have put in place and it continues to grind our justice system to a halt,” Rep. Chris Taylor said.
Nygren fired back that the cannabinoids case marked the first time the panel had enough information about a settlement to act. He hinted that Kaul is deliberately stonewalling to make Republicans look bad.
“Not all sides are willing to move these cases forward,” Nygren said. “You may not like the process, but this is a law that was passed duly by this body.”
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