BREAKING: John Doe is dead

Part 50 of 50 in the series Wisconsin’s Secret War

By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON, Wis. – The John Doe investigation into conservatives is dead.

At least for now.

In a monumental victory for targeted conservatives, Judge Rudolph Randa on Tuesday granted a preliminary injunction to stop the politically charged probe, ruling in favor of conservative activist Eric O’Keefe and his Wisconsin Club for growth.

GRANTED: On Tuesday, federal Judge Rudolph Randa granted conservative targets of a politically charged John Doe investigation their motion for preliminary injunction. The order shuts down the John Doe probe and demands the prosecutors return the conservatives’ property seized in pre-dawn “paramilitary-style” raids.

O’Keefe and the club in February filed a civil rights lawsuit against Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, two of his assistant DAs, John Doe Special Prosecutor Francis Schmitz, and a shadowy investigator contracted by the Government Accountability Board.

“The Defendants must cease all activities related to the investigation, return all property seized in the investigation from any individual or organization, and permanently destroy all copies of information and other materials obtained through the investigation,” wrote Randa, federal judge for the U.S. District Court Eastern District of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.

Randa further ordered that the plaintiffs in the civil rights case “and others” are “hereby relieved of any and every duty under Wisconsin law to cooperate further with Defendants‘ investigation.”

“Any attempt to obtain compliance by any Defendant or John Doe Judge Gregory Peterson is grounds for a contempt finding by this Court,” he ordered in the 26-page ruling.

The prosecutors-turned-defendants had sought an emergency stay of the proceedings on Monday with the Seventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals seeking an emergency stay of proceedings.

Prosecutors in the John Doe probe have been operating under the theory that the club and 28 other conservative organizations may have illegally coordinated with Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign during the state’s partisan recall elections of 2011 and 2012. It has since blown up into a five-county investigation.

O’Keefe in the lawsuit contends the probe, which has featured what some sources have described to Wisconsin Reporter as “paramilitary-style” pre-dawn raids at the homes and offices of conservative targets, has had a chilling effect on conservative organizations’ First Amendment rights. The Wall Street Journal editorial board has billed the John Doe as Wisconsin’s “Political Speech Raid.”

The conservatives assert that the prosecutors’ theory of illegal coordination is erroneous, a point, it appears, that is supported by former appeals court Judge Gregory A. Peterson, the presiding judge in the John Doe probe. Earlier this year, Peterson quashed several subpoenas granted by his predecessor, Judge Barbara Kluka, who recused herself in October without explanation. Peterson said the subpoenas failed to show probable cause.

In the first sentence of his ruling, Randa writes:

“This case requires the Court to decide the limits that government can place on First Amendment political speech.”

The judge said the case comes to the court with more than the usual urgency presented by First Amendment cases because the “defendants seek to criminalize the plaintiffs‘ speech under Wisconsin‘s campaign finance laws. Defendants instigated a secret John Doe investigation replete with armed raids on homes to collect evidence that would support their criminal prosecution.”

Prosecutors have effectively told the federal judge to butt out, that federal courts have no business involving themselves in state law enforcement investigations and that the prosecutors are protected under the precedents of immunity. They sought refuge under the Eleventh Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Randa in April and again late last week thoroughly rejected those arguments, arguing that “if the defendants are violating the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights, the Eleventh Amendment (to the U.S. Constitution) does not apply and the plaintiffs are entitled to injunctive relief.”

Wisconsin Reporter will have more on this breaking story coming up.

Contact M.D. Kittle at