Lawyers, lawyers everywhere and other dispatches from John Doe Land

Part 57 of 57 in the series Wisconsin’s Secret War

By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON, Wis. — The law is an incestuous business.

Take for example the firms representing a coalition of national and state media associations seeking to open the sealed records in Wisconsin’s politically charged John Doe investigation.

GETTING AROUND: The same attorneys representing a media coalition to open sealed John Doe records is involved in New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s “Bridgegate” scandal.

Mega firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, was hired by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to conduct the internal review of Christie’s “Bridgegate” scandal. The firm has billed New Jersey taxpayers nearly $1.1 million for work performed through January. The bills include just 20 days in January, so the final legal costs are likely to be a lot more.

And Houston-based Baker Botts L.L.P, led by James A. Baker, III, former Secretary of State under President George H.W. Bush, also represents the former president’s son, Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida.

Christie, of course, is considered a top-tier possible candidate for the GOP’s presidential nomination, as is Jeb Bush.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, whose shadow looms large over the politically charged John Doe investigation that has targeted dozens of conservative groups, also is considered a strong potential candidate for president.

Think Big Chris and Old Jeb might have an interest in the release of reams of presently sealed records related to a nearly 3-year-old secret investigation into allegations of illegal coordination between Walker’s campaign and conservative groups?

The two law firms are representing the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, American Society of News Editors, Wisconsin Broadcasters Association, Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council and Wisconsin Newspaper. The media coalition has been allowed to intervene in a civil rights lawsuit filed by conservative activist Eric O’Keefe and the Wisconsin Club for Growth.

O’Keefe and the Club for Growth accuse prosecutors in the John Doe, launched in August 2012 by Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, a Democrat, of conducting a partisan witch hunt that has stifled conservative political speech in Wisconsin.

With more than $1 billion in gross revenue, Los Angeles-based Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher consistently ranks near the top of The American Lawyer’s list of top 100 firms.

Baker Botts , with $555 million in revenue, ranked 48th on the list in 2011.

Silence remains

Despite U.S. District Court Judge Rudolph Randa’s order — twice — this week shutting down the John Doe probe, conservative targets are exercising their right to remain silent.

Wisconsin Reporter on Friday contacted several conservative organizations reportedly targeted in the probe, including Wisconsin Family Action, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, Americans for Prosperity, the Republican Party of Wisconsin and the Republican Governors Association. Only WMC returned our call, but the group declined comment.

On Thursday, Randa declared the John Doe prosecutors appeal to the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals frivolous and reinstated a preliminary injunction that halted the probe. He ordered the prosecutors-turned-defendants to “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.”

The appeals court has stayed Randa’s return-and-destroy order, for now.

Randa, federal judge for the U.S. District Court Eastern District of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, ruled that O’Keefe, the Wisconsin Club for Growth and “others” are “hereby relieved of any and every duty under Wisconsin law to cooperate further with Defendants‘ investigation.”

That means,apparently, a lifting of the probe’s gag order that legally bound conservative targets not to discuss the case on penalty of contempt charges. But only O’Keefe is talking so far, and only through his attorney.

Contact M.D. Kittle at