The “John Doe” law in Wisconsin is unique in that is sets up an investigative tool which, while nominally under the supervision of a Judge, gives prosecutors wide ranging power to conduct secret investigations. Targets and those from whom records and evidence is gathered are required to stay silent about what is being done to them.

The Wisconsin John Doe law has been around for a century, but recently has come under intense criticism because it has been used by Democratic prosecutors as a political weapon against Scott Walker and conservative activists. Scroll through our John Doe (WI) tag for more background.

The short version is that there have been two John Doe investigations of Scott Walker, neither of which has found any wrongdoing by Walker. John Doe No. 1 concerned Walker’s time as Milwaukee County Executive, and is closed.

John Doe No. 2 concerned alleged illegal coordination between conservative activists and groups and the Walker campaign during the 2012 Recall Election. John Doe No. 2 has been the subject of multiple litigations in which conservative groups allege that prosecutors used meritless legal theories to intimidate and harass the conservative movement into political silence through raids on homes and seizure of emails, texts and other electronic evidence. A whistleblower stepped forward to claim that the investigation was promoted if not instigated by the union-operative wife of the lead prosecutor, something he denies.

John Doe No. 2 is currently stalled, as both state and federal judges have found the legal theories behind the investigation are invalid as matters of law.

Nonetheless, the Democratic prosecutors are attempting to push forward and reignite John Doe No. 2, and to continue to target Walker and those politically aligned with him. John Doe No. 2 reeks of the political use of a powerful non-political investigative process. With Walker rising in the Republican presidential hopeful ranks, there is every reason to believe Democrats will seek to exploit John Doe No. 2, or perhaps start a John Doe No. 3, in the hopes of damaging Walker’s presidential chances.

Accordingly, Republicans who control the Wisconsin legislature are moving to take the politics out of the John Doe law. Wisconsin Reporter reports:

The predawn, paramilitary-style raids with children present. The assaults on free speech. The gag orders. The partisan witch hunts.

State Rep. David Craig, R-Big Bend, knows all about the latest John Doe investigation into Republican Gov. Scott Walker and dozens of conservative groups, and he says he’s no longer going to stand by as district attorneys and political speech regulators “trample on the constitutional rights” of some citizens.

Craig confirmed he and Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, are expected to introduce legislation Thursday afternoon that will significantly change Wisconsin’s unique John Doe law to ensure more transparency and accountability….

“Because of that enhanced power that our prosecution has in Wisconsin … it opens the door for potential abuse and we want to make sure that abuse doesn’t happen again in the future,” Craig said early Thursday when contacted by Wisconsin Reporter.

Craig’s and Tiffany’s bill would still allow a judge to enter a secrecy order, but it would only apply to district attorneys or other prosecuting attorneys, law enforcement personnel, interpreters and court reporters.

The Journal Sentinel reports on the hearings:

Republican lawmakers championed a bill Wednesday to end prosecutors’ ability to conduct John Doe investigations for many crimes, with one legislator taking a swipe at Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm for how he ran a now-stalled probe into the campaign of Gov. Scott Walker and conservative groups backing him.

Alluding to Chisholm without mentioning him by name, Sen. Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst) told the Senate Judiciary Committee the Democratic prosecutor had engaged in “abuse” and been “obsessed with getting involved in the political process.”

Democrats are not happy.

If the legislature does pass a reform of the John Doe law, it will help permanently limit the use of the John Doe process as a political weapon.