John Doe judge: ‘Results of the John Doe speak for themselves’

Part 27 of 27 in the series Wisconsin’s Secret War

By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON, Wis. – On a day when news headlines nationwide screamed of Gov. Scott Walker’s “apparent” knowledge of illegal campaigning going on in his office when he was Milwaukee County executive, the judge of the nearly three year “secret” investigation into Walker’s former aides and associates summed up the meat of the matter.

“The John Doe is closed and the results of the John Doe speak for themselves in terms of who has allegedly committed a crime, who has been charged with a crime and who has been convicted of a crime,” former appeals Court Judge Neal Nettesheim told Wisconsin Reporter Wednesday.

Not on that conviction list, perhaps much to the dismay of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin and like-minded liberals, was Walker.

Nettesheim served as the presiding judge over a sprawling probe launched in spring 2010 by the Democrat-led Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office. He shut down the investigation in March 2013, months after the prosecution’s quest for convictions fizzled out. In the end, Democrat DA John Chisholm and his prosecution squad had compiled six convictions – only two of them related to the original scope of the John Doe, and no charges of wrongdoing by Walker.

27,000 EMAILS: Kelly M. Rindfleisch, left, leaves the courtroom with her attorney Frank Gimbel after pleading guilty to charges she conducted campaign work as an aide to Gov. Scott Walker when he was Milwaukee County executive, Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012 in Milwaukee. PHOTO: AP

But you won’t find those facts in Wednesday’s headlines shouting the release of some 27,000 emails and other documents of Kelly Rindfleisch, Walker’s deputy chief of staff when Walker was county executive. Rindfleisch was sentenced to six months in jail on a misconduct conviction for campaign fundraising at the courthouse using a secret email system, according to the prosecution. She is appealing that decision.

Last week, Judge Patricia Curley of the District I Court of Appeals in Milwaukee ordered the release of all of Rindfleisch’s personal emails.

“Unsealed email ties Scott Walker to secret email system,” the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s headlined declared.

“This could be the start of Scott Walker’s Bridgegate,” posited the mostly liberal’s blogsite, working to compare the content of the emails to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s political troubles.

The media accounts point to emails from Walker aides indicating that the then-county executive knew of said secret email system ostensibly used for campaign-related activities as Walker was running for governor.

“I use this private account quite a bit to communicate with SKW … You should be sure you check it throughout the day,” Cynthia Archer, Walker’s administration director wrote to Rindfleisch, apparently referencing Walker’s initials, according to the emails.

But, again, despite some potentially embarrassing exchanges, nothing contained in the documents – or anything else dredged up in the probe – led to charges of illegal activity against Walker.

“The John Doe here is closed except for one lingering motion which was brought by the Journal Sentinel,” Nettesheim said, referring to the newspaper’s push for the judge to release all documents under seal in the probe. That decision has been delayed, Nettesheim said.

SPEAKING LOUDLY: former appeals Court Judge Neal Nettesheim, who presided over the first politically charged John Doe investigation into Scott Walker’s former aides and associates, says the results of the probe speak for themselves.

Nettesheim said he was “completely unfamiliar” with the release of the emails, that he first learned of their distribution when he was contacted by Wisconsin Reporter Wednesday afternoon.

But liberal groups and the media at large were chomping at the bit to push out every seemingly salacious detail.

Left-bending American Bridge, a super political action committee with ties to Hillary Clinton, on Wednesday morning giddily announced it was launching a new website on Wisconsin’s not-so-secret John Doe probes. It rejoiced in offering the first bits of political dirt it found in the emails and interpreted them for public consumption.

But perhaps American Bridge wasn’t nearly as hungry to gather intelligence on Walker as prosecutors in the John Doe investigation, as noted in the story by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the recipient of so much leaked information from that probe.

“The records reveal a frenzy of activity by prosecutors and investigators on Nov. 1, 2010, the day before Walker was elected governor. They conducted raids at Walker’s county office, his campaign office and the homes of several of his aides, including Rindfleisch,” the newspaper noted.

“Just before those raids were conducted that day, John Doe Judge Neal Nettesheim agreed to prosecutors’ request to enlarge the probe to include Rindfleisch and three other top aides in the Milwaukee County executive’s office — (Walker’s then-chief of staff Tom) Nardelli.; Fran McLaughlin, his spokeswoman; and Dorothy Moore, his scheduler.”

Enlarging the investigation has been the prosecutorial plan of action in the latest John Doe, launched in August 2012 by Chisholm’s office. The probe has expanded to five counties and is targeting dozens of conservative groups alleged to have committed “illegal coordination” with Walker’s campaign during the 2012 recall election. Walker, the bane of the left for key conservative policy victories such as his government collective bargaining reforms, easily won the recall election – driven by multiple liberal groups and the Democratic Party of Wisconsin.

Those liberal organizations, according to a civil rights lawsuit filed against prosecutors in “John Doe II,” appeared to have coordinated in the same way as conservative groups, yet not a single left-leaning organization appears to be the subject of a secret probe.

The presiding judge in the current John Doe has quashed several subpoenas, asserting the prosecution failed to show evidence that the conservative groups in question violated the law.

Just like its predecessor, John Doe II has sparked a firestorm of controversy, viewed by conservatives as nothing more than a taxpayer-funded political witch hunt by the left.

Nettesheim said he was not surprised by the political heat the first John Doe probe generated.

“When I was approached by director of the state court office and was asked if I’d be willing to conduct the John Doe, I knew very well the political implications on both sides of the aisle,” the judge said. “But like Harry Truman once said, I find the heat in this kitchen very comfortable.”

Nettesheim said he managed to equally aggravate the right and the left.

But unlike the last John Doe, when so many conservatives seemed paralyzed by the investigation’s gag order, some on the right are speaking up and speaking out about what they see as an assault on their First Amendment rights. And they sound like they do not intend to go down quietly without a fight.

Contact M.D. Kittle at

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