By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Board wants a judge to remove Attorney General Josh Kaul’s conflicted agency from representing the board in a lawsuit involving the state’s wolf hunt.
The board has scheduled a video conference meeting for 8 a.m. Friday to vote on a motion seeking outside counsel.
“It appeared the only play we had. We had been getting nowhere with DOJ,” board Vice Chairman Gregory Kazmierski of Pewaukee, tells Empower Wisconsin.
Kaul is appealing his failed lawsuit attempting to remove Chairman Fred Prehn from a conservative-led DNR board that has infuriated Gov. Tony Evers and environmentalists even as the attorney general’s assistants claim to represent the board against environment groups suing to stop Wisconsin’s wolf hunt.
“Apparently he’s in the active process of an appeal to get our chair removed while supposedly defending us. Talk about a conflict, said Kazmierski, who, like Prehn, was appointed to the board by former Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican.
Kazmierski said it’s just the latest example of a liberal-led executive branch that is openly defying the laws of the state.
“It’s total lawlessness,” Kazmierski said.
“To me it’s kind of a precedent-setting case. That’s why as a board we’re fighting so hard. If this precedent gets set, this agency can do anything they want, any time they want, Katy bar the door,” he said.
A Dane County judge last month rejected Kaul’s lawsuit to remove Prehn, who has remained on the board months after his term ended. Prehn has successfully argued he doesn’t need to vacate the post until the Republican-controlled state Senate confirms his successor, nominated by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers.
Dane County Circuit Court Judge Valerie Bailey-Rihn agreed with Prehn, citing a previous Wisconsin Supreme Court Ruling — Thompson v. Gibson — which found a state auditor could remain in his position until his successor was confirmed.
“Accordingly, the Court is bound by the holding of Thompson v. Gibson to conclude that there is no vacancy in the Board seat,” Bailey-Rihn wrote in her ruling.
Despite the fact that a judge in the most liberal court system in Wisconsin found his arguments suspect, Kaul, a deeply partisan Democrat, has said he is appealing the lower court decision.
Prehn’s presence keeps Evers’ nominee, teacher and environmentalist Sandra Naas, off the board for now. Conservatives hold a narrow 4-3 majority.
At the same time, Kaul’s office is supposed to be representing the DNR Board against a coalition of environment groups suing to stop Wisconsin’s wolf hunt this fall and invalidate a state law that mandates annual hunts.
The DNR board asked Kaul to let it retain outside counsel. His office denied the request, making it all the more political in noting in its letter that Evers’ office also has denied the request. The AG’s office said they had an “adequate fire wall” to prevent a conflict of interest.
Kazmierski said DNR originally refused to post the notice for Friday’s meeting.
“We had a quorum established on Wednesday afternoon. As of last night they had told our liaison who works for the department to not put the notice out yet .. We went to bed last night not knowing at all whether they were going to noice the meeting on a timely basis,” Kazmierski said.
Evers’ DNR this week defied its board again, dramatically scaling back the number of wolves hunters are allowed to harvest in the upcoming fall season. In August, the board approved a limit of 300 wolves, 170 more than DNR biologists had recommended.
Kazmierski said Evers’ DNR is out-of-control, and the public has no idea just how lawless the agency has become.
“That’s what made our chair want to stay, because they violated the (wolf hunt) law originally in February, and the court said they were in violation of the statute. They’ve done that with a number of rules and laws,” the board member said.