WSJ: John Doe judge deals body blow to secret probe targeting conservatives

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Posted: Jan 10, 2014 11:26 PM
WSJ: John Doe judge deals body blow to secret probe targeting conservatives
Part 18 of 17 in the series Wisconsin's secret war

By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON, Wisc. – In a serious body blow to a Democrat-driven secret investigation into dozens of Wisconsin conservative organizations, including Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign, a judge has quashed some subpoenas, ruling that they were issued improperly, according to a newly published opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal.

“Now we learn that Judge Gregory A. Peterson ruled on Friday that at least some of those subpoenas were improper,” the Journal’s editorial board broke Friday evening in a piece headlined Wisconsin Political Speech Victory.

According to the ruling, which remains under seal but obtained by the Journal, the subpoenas “do not show probable cause that the moving parties committed any violations of the campaign finance laws,” he wrote.

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“IMPROPER” PROSECUTION: The Wall Street Journal reports the judge in Wisconsin’s secret John Doe probe into conservative groups has quashed several subpoenas for their failure to show probable cause. Speculation is, the judge’s ruling is a serious blow to the nearly two-year probe digging for campaign finance violations.

Peterson also ordered the return of property to the targets of the so-called John Doe probe, which for nearly two years has gone after conservative organizations like Americans for Prosperity and Wisconsin Club for Growth in a hunt for alleged illegal coordination and campaign finance violations in Wisconsin’s 2011 and 2012 recall elections.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel first broke the story of the court-administered dragnet in late October. Wisconsin Reporter then followed up with detailed accounts of some of the conservative targets named in the probe and news that the original presiding judge, retired Kenosha Circuit Court Judge Barbara A. Kluka, had recused herself from the case.

Though gagged by court order, several sources have told Wisconsin Reporter the manifold legal attack on nonprofit political organizations has included dramatic pre-dawn raids on homes and offices; confiscated equipment and files; and demands for private phone, email and other records.

Sources connected to the investigation have told Wisconsin Reporter the mission was to take down Republican Gov. Walker, the bane of public unions in particular and Democrats in general.

The investigation, sources said, was launched by Milwaukee County Assistant District Attorney Bruce Landgraf, who is being sued by a northern Wisconsin Harley-Davidson shop owner on charges of false imprisonment and abuse of process after the retailer was locked up for failing to provide customer information to the prosecution that, by law, he could not turn over.

The Wisconsin judge who presided over original lawsuit, throwing it out over a technicality, harshly criticized Landgraf, asserting the prosecutor was “behaving badly, probably for political reasons.”

The Wall Street Journal opinion piece said Peterson’s order doesn’t apply to other subpoena targets, but they could receive a similar ruling.

“The order is all the more remarkable because it bluntly rejects the prosecutor’s theory of illegal coordination between the groups and the Walker campaign,” the editorial board wrote.

In the order, Peterson wrote that the “subpoenas fail to show probable cause that a crime was committed,” according to the editorial.

“This means that prosecutors essentially invented without evidence the possibility of criminal behavior to justify the subpoenas and their thuggish tactics,” the editorial board stated in a blistering critique of the John Doe.

Three unnamed petitioners – targets of the probe – had challenged the investigation in November in the state Appeals Court. They asked the court to shut down what many conservatives deemed a “witch hunt,” arguing in part that there is no power granted under Wisconsin law to assign a single judge for the multi-county John Doe. They made the same argument concerning a special prosecutor who was brought in.

Read the entire Wall Street Journal editorial here.

Contact M.D. Kittle at mkittle@watchdog.org.

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