Lawsuits looming in Wisconsin’s crumbling John Doe probe?

Part 19 of 20 in the series Wisconsin’s secret war

By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON, Wis. — Following news that a judge last week quashed several subpoenas in the Democrat-driven secret investigation of state conservatives, a Wisconsin legal expert says he expects payback — in the form of lawsuits.

“I don’t think the people who have been harmed by (the investigation) are going to let bygones be bygones,” the source said on condition of anonymity due to his proximity to the probe. “I could see them looking at litigation, and it wouldn’t surprise me if there are calls for legislative reform of the John Doe law and, in this case, an investigation into the investigators.”

As the Wall Street Journal editorial page reported Friday, Gregory A. Peterson, presiding judge in the investigation, quashed subpoenas to conservative groups and ordered the return of property to targets of the campaign-finance probe.

IN COURT: A source close to the John Doe investigation into conservatives says lawsuits may be the next order of business now that a judge has quashed several subpoenas and demanded the prosecution return property seized in raids.

Peterson ruled that at least some of the subpoenas “do not show probable cause that the moving parties committed any violations of the campaign laws,” according to a copy of the opinion obtained by the Journal.

The subpoenas had been sent to top officials of Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign, the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the Wisconsin Club for Growth and Citizens for a Strong America.

At least 29 conservative groups have been targeted in the nearly two-year probe digging for alleged violations of campaign finance and coordination laws in Wisconsin’s 2011 and 2012 recall elections.

What last week’s ruling underscores is that investigators have failed to raise compelling evidence in their theory of illegal coordination between the organizations and Walker’s campaign, according to the editorial.

“Judge Peterson’s order doesn’t apply to other subpoena targets, but they can presumably get the same result if they file a motion with the judge and have a similar factual basis,” asserts the Wall Street Journal opinion piece, headlined Wisconsin Political Speech Victory.

It appears no liberal organizations have been targeted despite the tens of millions of dollars pumped into the recall campaigns to oust Walker and Republican senators by national unions and Democrats.

Multiple sources predicted prosecutors will appeal the judge’s ruling. John Doe special prosecutor Francis Schmitz did not return a call from Wisconsin Reporter Monday seeking comment. He has previously said that he would not comment on any aspect of the investigation.

But the legal expert who spoke to Wisconsin Reporter insists investigators may have little choice but to walk away.

“What are they going to do if they truly don’t have anything to go on? What is the next move in the investigation?” the source asked. “What are they going to try to do to substantiate this going forward? This judge slapped them down. He’s going to want to know what these guys have got next.”

If it’s just more of the same trolling expedition, the legal expert said, it appears Peterson is having none of it.

Still, in Milwaukee County, a Democrat bastion, there may be little incentive for Democrat District Attorney John Chisholm and his Assistant DA Bruce Landgraf, who launched the John Doe, to surrender. In a county where Walker won just 36 percent of the vote in his 2012 recall election, there will be no political price to pay for pushing the investigation into the governor and his supporters, no matter how flawed that investigation is, the legal expert said.

The ruling, meanwhile, raises some important questions about the judicial performance of Kenosha County retired Judge Barbara A. Kluka.

As Wisconsin Reporter first reported in October, Kluka, the former presiding judge in the John Doe probe, suddenly recused herself from the investigation, but only after she approved the subpoenas. Contacted at her home by Wisconsin Reporter, the judge declined to say why she walked away from the probe.

“What kind of supervision was Judge Kluka exercising when this judge (Peterson) has just thrown out” several subpoenas, “particularly in light of the fact that she only put in for one day’s worth of work?” the legal expert asked.

Peterson’s ruling “suggests that there was no supervision at all, that she basically rubber stamped whatever it is (the prosecution) wanted,” the source said.

Contact M.D. Kittle at

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