By Brendan O'Brien
MILWAUKEE (Reuters) - A Wisconsin judge Friday denied Governor Scott Walker extra time to review the estimated one million signatures submitted last month to the state in an effort to recall him.
Dane County Judge Richard Niess refused to give Walker's campaign the two extra weeks it requested to examine the signatures on the estimated 152,000 pages of petitions recall organizers turned into the Government Accountability Board.
Walker and other Republican lawmakers were targeted for recall by Democratic organizers after he led a successful effort to limit public worker collective bargaining rights.
"We hope today's ruling, where a judge found that all recall elections likely will proceed, will end his heinous attempt to avoid accountability," said state Democratic Party chair Mike Tate in a statement.
A spokesman for the Republican Party of Wisconsin called the decision "concerning."
"The court's decision to deny Friends of Scott Walker an extension to verify these recall petitions is concerning, given that it has become apparent that an adequate review of recall signatures could not be met within the current time limit," said state Republican spokesman Ben Sparks. He said the state Republican party and Friends of Scott Walker will continue their efforts to verify the signatures.
The deadline remains February 27 for Walker's campaign to review signatures and file challenges with the GAB. Recall organizers needed to collect 540,208 valid signatures to force a recall of the governor.
According to the motion Walker's lawyers filed with the court, the campaign has examined about 25 percent of the petition pages and have found problems with up to 20 percent of them.
At that rate, given the estimated one million signatures, Walker's campaign would not have enough challenges to thwart a recall election.
The campaign originally had 10 days to examine the signatures. On January 25, Niess granted the campaign 20 extra days.
Organizers will have five days to respond after Walker's campaign submits its challenges to the recall signatures. His campaign will then have two days to reply to the organizer's responses. The GAB has until March 19 to complete its own review of the petitions and verify the recall.
A primary will be held six weeks after the GAB verifies the recall with a general election to be held four weeks after the primary, according to state law.
In addition to the signatures against the governor, organizers on January 17 submitted what they said were enough signatures to recall Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch and four Republican senators.
The controversial collective bargaining legislation supported by Walker and other state Republican lawmakers greatly reduced the power of most public employee unions. It helped lead to the recall of two Republican senators last summer.
(Reporting By Brendan O'Brien; Editing by Mary Wisniewski)