State Farm still doesn’t want to cover John Doe prosecutor’s legal bills

Part 65 of 65 in the series Wisconsin’s Secret War

By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON, Wis. — Milwaukee County Assistant District Attorney Bruce Landgraf’s insurer still doesn’t want to pay for any of his legal expenses related to a civil rights lawsuit filed against Landgraf and fellow prosecutors of a politically charged John Doe investigation.

But that’s no reason to stall the case, say the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

State Farm Fire & Casualty Co. for a second time in two months has asked U.S. District Court Judge Rudolph Randa for permission to intervene in the lawsuit and separate its insurance coverage dispute with Landgraf.

UNDER COVERAGE: State Farm may be like a good neighbor, but it doesn’t seem to want anything to do with covering the legal expenses of a prosecutor in a secret John Doe investigation. At issue is whether a federal court will halt proceedings in a civil rights lawsuit against the prosecutors while the insurance dispute is decided.

The national insurer also asks the court to stay the proceedings pending the outcome of the coverage question.

Conservative activist Eric O’Keefe and his Wisconsin Club for Growth take issue with the last request.

In a response filed Monday, attorneys for O’Keefe and the club say the plaintiffs have no issue with State Farm intervening in the lawsuit, or breaking off its dispute with Landraf. But they do not want to see the lawsuit delayed.

The prosecutors-turned-defendants — including Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, Landgraf, his fellow assistant DA David Robles, John Doe special prosecutor Francis Schmitz, and contracted investigator Dean Nickel — have repeatedly tried to stall the proceedings, the plaintiffs have claimed. O’Keefe’s latest filing indicates little patience for more delays.

Besides, the only reason for State Farm’s stay — to save the insurer potentially unnecessary costs of defense — doesn’t apply in this case, the filing asserts.

The state of Wisconsin is picking up Landgraf’s legal bills.

State Farm in its latest filing doesn’t explain what, if any legal fees, it would be forced to pay should the lawsuit move forward while the coverage question is decided.

Previous court filings show Landgraf asked his insurer to cover some of his legal bills under his homeowner’s and personal liability policies.He has declined to comment on the matter.

The civil rights suit does seek unspecified damages from the defendants, in a professional and personal capacity — meaning the prosecutors could face some hefty judgments for which they would be personally responsible.

More important, O’Keefe argues there is no reason to delay, as Randa recently recognized when the judge issued a preliminary injunction, shutting down the secret John Doe probe into dozens of conservative organizations.

In his decision, the judge noted the civil rights lawsuit “comes to the Court with more than the usual urgency presented by First Amendment cases.”

“Even assuming State Farm can ‘present these (coverage) issues to this Court within ninety (90) days of intervention,’ … this case would be unnecessarily stalled by at least several months if this Court granted State Farm’s request, putting at further risk Plaintiffs’ ability to participate meaningfully in the 2014 legislative session and election cycle,” O’Keefe’s attorneys argue.

And the First Amendment is precisely what is at stake, according to the lawsuit.

O’Keefe and the Wisconsin Club for Growth contend the investigation, launched in August 2012 by Chisholm, a Democrat, has chilled their rights of free speech and association. The probe featured what sources have described to Wisconsin Reporter as “paramilitary-style” predawn raids at the homes and offices of targets.

Prosecutors pursued the investigation on the theory that the conservative organizations illegally coordinated with the campaign of Republican Gov. Scott Walker during the state’s partisan recall elections. Randa and John Doe presiding Judge Gregory Peterson have each noted the investigation’s premise is faulty, with Peterson quashing several subpoenas because they failed to show evidence of probable cause.

Several court cases involving the John Doe are occurring simultaneously. Schmitz wants the state’s 4th District Court of Appeals to overturn Peterson’s ruling on the subpoenas. Walker’s campaign last month asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court to take the case because it likely would end up there. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has yet to decide whether to hear two lawsuits seeking to shut down the John Doe probe.

At the same time, the prosecutors have asked the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals to allow their investigation to continue while they appeal Randa’s preliminary injunction. It is the same appeals court that last week declared unconstitutional the same campaign finance laws under which the John Doe probe appears to be laboring.

Contact M.D. Kittle at mkittle@watchdog.org

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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