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Big defeat for anti-conservative Wisconsin “John Doe” probe

Big defeat for anti-conservative Wisconsin “John Doe” probe

Wisconsin’s long, strange trip is not over, but at least it’s exposed.

We previously wrote in detail about the “John Doe” investigation in Wisconsin targeting a wide range of conservative groups and Scott Walker supporters relating to the failed Democratic attempt to recall Walker.[*]  See Secret probe of conservatives makes Wisconsin ground zero in First Amendment war for the details.

Good news.  The subpoenas issued in the secret probe have been quashed in a secret court ruling uncovered by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Secret ruling deals major setback to John Doe probe into recall elections:

Prosecutors in the John Doe investigation into spending and fundraising during the raucous Wisconsin recall elections were dealt a major procedural blow Friday, according to sources.

The five-county investigation remains open, but subpoenas issued in the probe to conservative political groups supporting Gov. Scott Walker were quashed, sources familiar with the development said. The ruling — which is sealed — raises First Amendment concerns about the subpoenas.

The Journal Sentinel has not turned up any Democratic candidates or liberal interest groups involved in the recall elections that have been contacted by John Doe prosecutors.

“The John Doe is still open,” said one individual familiar with the case.

But other sources said Friday’s ruling seriously undercuts the well-publicized probe, launched in the summer of 2012. Those familiar with the case said the decision was handed down by retired Appeals Court Judge Gregory A. Peterson, the presiding judge in the investigation who took over the case in November.

Peterson said late Friday that he could not comment on any aspect of the case because the proceedings are still covered by a secrecy order. John Doe investigations allow prosecutors to work in secret while compelling witnesses to turn over documents and give testimony.

Prosecutors and others involved in the case declined to discuss the major development. Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm and his top deputy, Kent Lovern, did not return calls.

Sources have said the investigation — first disclosed by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel — is looking at whether such conservative groups as the Wisconsin Club for Growth coordinated illegally with GOP candidates or others during the 2011 and 2012 recall races. In the most prominent contest, Walker beat back an attempt by Democrats to remove him.

The Journal-Sentinel pointed to this Facebook post by one of the targets:

RJ Johnson Wisconsin John Doe Facebook Post

The Wall Street Journal, which was out front in exposing the political motivations of the probe, adds:

Democrats would love to intimidate and muzzle the local activists who rallied to Mr. Walker’s recall defense. And the subpoenas all but shut down these activists, forcing them to hire lawyers and defend themselves rather than contribute to the political debate in an election year. Beyond 2014, the prosecutors’ goal seems to be raise the cost of participation so the subpoena targets decide to quit politics….

The John Doe probe isn’t over, and no doubt Messrs. Schmitz and Landgraf will appeal the ruling to quash. But that should give the subpoena targets an opening to expand their defense beyond merely stopping this political trolling exercise. They can marshall constitutional arguments that should aim to dismantle the prosecutorial machinery of these illegal campaign-finance investigations.

The John Doe process has become a political weapon intended to serve partisan ends regardless of the law. Kudos to a judge who was brave enough to read the law and stop it, but there’s more free-speech defending to do.

No doubt that Wisconsin’s long, strange trip is not over.

[* A bit of trivia for readers, we first introduced our Fireworks and music nuke weapon the night Walker won the recall.]


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Wait, what? Even if the analogy is not completely apt, is this a modern incarnation of the Star Chamber? Secret court rulings? Secrecy orders?

Not A Member of Any Organized Political | January 10, 2014 at 11:42 pm

Secret probes by secret bodies get secret ruling from a secret court that…… EEEEK!!!

It’s enough to make you shout
“Stuff it in your NSA-hole and choke on it!!!!

This must be the Obama shovel ready jobs Obama promised.

Next the Dem Inquisition will start taking a hard look at traffic delays and lane closings in Wisconsin.

    GrumpyOne in reply to Zhombre. | January 12, 2014 at 9:49 pm

    There is nothing like a democrat scorned as they are truly very sore losers and will stoop to any level in order to get their vindictive ways…

This looks like the same kind of prosecutorial overreach that ended Tom Delay’s political career.

    teapartydoc in reply to teapartydoc. | January 11, 2014 at 8:37 am

    And it doesn’t seem to matter to anyone that he was eventually vindicated. I’ll make another comment: Take a good look at the end of the Roman Republic. It was similarly paralyzed by endless prosecutions of this kind–think of Cicero’s prosecution of Verres for corruption as governor of Syracuse.

    MaggotAtBroadAndWall in reply to teapartydoc. | January 11, 2014 at 11:38 am

    And Alaskan Senator Ted Stevens. But the bogus prosecution of Ted Stevens enabled Begich to win, and then Democrats enacted Obamacare on a one-party vote based on a pack of fraudulent lies. And they get the media to parrot their insane talking point that the Tea Party are the extremists.

    But nevermind. There are traffic jams in New Jersey to worry about (NJ may be the traffic jam capitol of the U.S. regardless of any political wrongdoing).

    richard40 in reply to teapartydoc. | January 11, 2014 at 1:12 pm

    Good point. And I remember the charges against Delay was a big part of the dem “culture of corruption” talking points. But now we know the corruption was not Delay, but the corrupt dem prosecutors who went after him.

More justification for getting rid of campaign finance restrictions altogether.

Put the effort into compelling voter responsibility instead … for if voters responsibly inform themselves instead of simply listening to the ads, the value money has as a political currency is greatly diminished, no matter who gives it or how much they give.

Then, elect candidates who will REFUSE to operate the government as the people’s problem-solver of first resort – for it is the growth in government beyond its legitimate mission of securing our unalienable rights that has expanded the market for crony-capitalism campaign cash.

The less influence our leaders have to peddle, the less we will see people buying such influence with campaign cash.

    I agree with you on curing corruption by cutting government, and the necessity of electing politicians who will cut it. I also agree that people should stop looking to gov to fix every problem that comes up. I’m not sure how you can compel voters to be responsible though. We can only hope that one day the low info voters will finally get it, and realize there really aint no such thing as a free lunch, and the answer to every problem should not be saying there otta be a law.

Unfortunately, the so-called “low information voter” is nothing of the sort. They want information… but just of a certain sort. They want to hear “What racial, cultural, and economic groups are you going to favor?” and “What am I going to get from the government if I vote for you?”

The Democratic Party has taken the low and destructive road of appealing to voters on precisely these terms. It’s no longer a question of what is in the nation’s long term best interests. It’s now “How am I gonna survive the next election cycle?” This mindset is fostered by the existence of the career politician, and by the endless, unstoppable power grabs by the Federal Government. I’m sad to say, but I don’t see real change happening until we have already gone over the cliff. Experience is the best teacher and all.

Alternative headline: ‘Wisconsin’s Fascists Thwarted for Now in Witch Hunt for Conservative ‘John Does’