Wisconsin Supreme Court to decide ‘John Doe’ investigations of Gov. Scott Walker


The U.S. Supreme Court rejected a petition Monday morning from conservative groups seeking to throw out a multi-year “John Doe” probe into Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s 2012 recall campaign, leaving the dispute to be sorted out in state court.

Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSblog reports, Court bypasses Wisconsin political fray:

TotalRecallThe denial of review in O’Keefe v. Chisholm, without comment, turned aside a plea by a conservative political activist to revive a civil rights lawsuit against a special prosecutor over an investigation of supporters for the governor’s anti-union efforts.

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 The Court’s refusal to get into the middle of a bitter, mostly partisan feud in Wisconsin was not a surprise, because the case is still undergoing review in the Wisconsin Supreme Court and the groups complaining about the prosecutor have already been able to stop a series of investigations that had run on nearly five years.

While a state judge had blocked the investigation, by nullifying existing subpoenas to the governor’s allied organizations, the question whether there was a violation, at all, of Wisconsin election law is now before the Wisconsin Supreme Court.  Even so, O’Keefe and his group were attempting to revive their civil rights claims against the lead prosecutor and local Democratic county attorneys.

Think Progress adds, Conservative Group Fails To End Criminal Probe Into Scott Walker:

The US Supreme Court rejected a petition Monday morning from conservative groups seeking to throw out a multi-year probe into Scott Walker’s 2012 recall campaign. The criminal investigation had previously found some evidence that Walker’s campaign illegally coordinated with Club for Growth and other Republican organizations.

These groups have called the investigation an infringement on their constitutional right to free speech and free association.

Most of the facts of the case remained secret until last week, when The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and four other journalism groups won a lengthy battle for access to a trove of documents. These papers reveal, among other things, that Walker was planning to argue that his coordination with Club for Growth was not illegal because it happened before he was an officially-declared candidate, even though he was actively fighting voters’ attempt to recall him from office.

Before the so-called John Doe investigation was halted by lower court, it resulted in the conviction of several of Walker’s staffers for crimes committed while they worked for him, ranging from corruption to embezzlement to working on campaign activities while on the clock at a government job. Though Walker himself was never charged with a crime, internal emails suggest he was involved in or at least aware of the illegal coordination with outside groups.

The case now rests in the hands of the state Supreme Court, which is expected to rule by the end of June on whether the investigation can go forward or will permanently end. Yet that court, whose members are elected by voters, is now coming under criticism for having serious conflicts of interest. The four conservative members of the court benefitted from millions of dollars of outside spending from Club for Growth and the other groups under investigation to win their own seats, leading the Republican head prosecutor to call on them to recuse themselves from the case.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has been through a massive upheaval during Walker’s time in office, one that has tilted the court in his favor. Not only have a series of expensive and controversial campaigns elected some of the court’s most conservative members, a constitutional amendment was passed to end the hundred-plus-year-old tradition of allowing the court’s most senior member to serve as Chief Justice.

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The new Chief Justice, Patience Roggensack, has written that Justices on her court don’t need to recuse themselves from a case even if there is a real or perceived conflict of interest — including a campaign donation from one of the lawyers or parties before the court.

“Notably, the Wisconsin Supreme Court amended the state’s code of judicial conduct in 2010 to specifically exclude campaign contributions and independent expenditures as bases for recusal in Wisconsin.” BRIEF: Ethicists Urge Wisconsin Justices to Consider Recusal in Gov. Scott Walker Campaign Finance Case. This is in conflict with recent U.S. Supreme Court precedent:

The Brennan Center for Justice brief argues that the Wisconsin Supreme Court must consider the recusal motion in a manner consistent with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Caperton v. A. T. Massey Coal Co. (.pdf), which ruled that judges may be required to recuse themselves when a litigant provides significant campaign support to a judge.

The state of Wisconsin has been so thoroughly corrupted since Citizens United and the rise of Scott Walker and the Tea Party, I no longer recognize the place I knew and loved. It’s like a dark mass insanity has overtaken a good part of its citizens.

UPDATE: The U.S. Supreme Court’s action ends the action in federal court to block the John Doe investigations. Charles Pierce summarizes nicely in Watching Scotty Blow, Cont’d: The Supreme Court Declines To Help:

On Monday morning, the Supreme Court declined to take up the case of O’Keefe v. Chisholm. The reason this is important is because, by denying cert in this case, the Nine Wise Souls have guaranteed that Scott Walker will spend a little more time on the hook. The case began with an ideological hack of a federal judge in Wisconsin named Rudolph Randa. Almost a year ago, Randa handed down a decision that pretty much turned off the John Doe investigations in Wisconsin that were looking into possible election-law violations by Walker during his campaign to stave off recall. The suspicion was that Walker illegally coordinated his campaign with the efforts of outside groups and outside money. Randa found a constitutional right to this kind of coordination — a finding that, as this study from the Brennan Center demonstrates, ran contrary to a half-century’s worth of election law, including the Citizens United decision. Last December, the Seventh Circuit knocked Randa’s arguments out of the way and, on Monday, the Supreme Court declined to take the case at all, leaving it to the Wisconsin courts to sort the case out amongst themselves. Where that will end up is anyone’s guess but, for now Scott Walker remains under actual criminal investigation. Just thought everyone should remember that.