MADISON, Wis. – The state Supreme Court on Monday released hundreds of documents from Wisconsin’s infamous John Doe II investigation.
But after bold headline stories Friday announcing the pending release of previously sealed documents in the “Gov. Walker case,” the mainstream media for the most part went dark.
With the exception of a retread story about former special prosecutor Francis Schmitz claiming he has returned the personal property the secret investigation unlawfully seized (Schmitz has made a lot of claims), most of the usual mainstream players bowed out of this one.
In all fairness, there was no “there” there.
Most of the information from the court motions, responses, emails, and exhibits had previously been reported on. Plenty of the documents were duplicates.
Not a single new thread for the left to try to rework its rejected “Gov. Scott Walker criminal scheme” narrative. Hence the general silence from the general press.
But there are many reminders in these court records of just how abusive this politically driven probe was. Critical points long forgotten or buried in the mainstream coverage.
‘Rubber stamp’ judge
Former John Doe Judge Barbara A. Kluka makes a number of cameos in newly released documents.
Kluka was the reserve judge effectively tapped by the state Supreme Court Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson to oversee the multi-county campaign finance investigation into Walker and dozens of conservative groups.
After signing off on the subpoenas and warrants used to raid the homes of conservatives, Kluka in late October 2013 suddenly and without explanation recused herself, citing a conflict.
In federal court filings, attorneys for Eric O’Keefe and the Wisconsin Club for Growth, targets of the unconstitutional John Doe probe, claimed Kluka “provided no meaningful oversight over this John Doe proceeding.” In other words, she was a “rubber stamp” judge.
“(P)ublic records indicate that she approved every petition, subpoena, and search warrant sought in the case, and purportedly reviewed hundreds of pages of affidavits and evidence, in just one day’s worth of work,” the court documents state.
And then, suddenly, the judge was gone.
More than three years later, it remains unclear what Kluka’s conflict was. She has declined to tell Wisconsin Watchdog. These latest batch of unsealed documents still don’t explain.
Ghostwriters at work
The myriad bitter and petty-toned responses and memos ostensibly written by Schmitz over years of legal wrangling apparently were ghost-written – a point well documented by attorneys for the conservative targets.
Many of the special prosecutor’s communications in the Supreme Court file are initiated DR or BL, indicating that the responses actually were written by Milwaukee County assistant district attorneys David Robles and Bruce Landgraf.
The assistant DAs were key players in the secret probe launched in August 2012 by their boss, Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, a highly partisan Democrat. All three are plaintiffs in a John Doe-related, federal civil rights lawsuit.
Conservatives have argued, and court records suggest as much, that Schmitz was the empty suit in an investigation led by Chisholm’s office and the now-defunct state Government Accountability Board. And the former special prosecutor’s ghostwriters seemed to have been very busy, even after the state Supreme Court in July 2015 declared the John Doe unconstitutional, Schmitz’s position invalid, and ordered the probe shut down.
‘Perfect storm of wrongs’
Speaking of the Supreme Court’s ruling, the question remains for many, why are these prosecutors and investigators who instigated a “perfect storm of wrongs that was visited upon the innocent” not on trial? At least why have they not at any substantive level been held accountable for treating their victims to “the tyrannical retribution of arbitrary and capricious government prosecution,” as the ruling asserts?
Schmitz, Chisholm and the rest, of course, claim they did nothing wrong and insist that their secret probe found evidence of campaign finance violations.
Multiple judges did not concur in the prosecutors’ conclusion, including Kluka’s successor, John Doe Judge James Peterson. In January 2014, Peterson quashed the subpoenas used in the massive searches and seizures, ruling that the prosecutors had established no probable cause that crimes had been committed. The judge said the prosecutors’ claims that issue advocacy groups like the Wisconsin Club for Growth illegally engaged in express advocacy and coordinated with Walker’s campaign were unfounded.
Then the Supreme Court in its 2015 ruling held that Schmitz, the GAB’s hand-selected prosecutor, “employed theories of law that do not exist in order to investigate citizens who were wholly innocent of any wrongdoing.”
Chisholm appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court and lost. One of the prosecutors’ big arguments is that two conservative members of the state Supreme Court should have stepped away from the case because their election campaigns benefited from independent expenditures from some of the John Doe targets. They do not, however, make the same claim against liberal Justice Shirley Abrahamson and in the lower appeals court, Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg – each ruling against the conservatives, both supported in their election campaigns by the conservatives’ political enemies.
While critics castigate the 4-2 ruling by the conservative-led state Supreme Court, the decision stands. And thus far, the prosecutors who stand accused of conducting a government-funded investigation marked by retribution have faced no consequences for their behavior.