Wisconsin AG recommends contempt charges against 'John Doe' prosecutor and his henchmen
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker enraged Democrats and unions when he rammed a bill through the Republican legislature in 2011 that limited the power of public unions. In response, Democrats gathered enough signatures on petitions to initiate a recall election.
Walker won that election handily in 2012. But that was only the beginning of the story. A Milwaukee Democratic prosecutor decided to build a case against conservative activists for illegally communicating and coordinating their political efforts. The result was something straight out of a dystopian nightmare, as The Federalist describes:
In the predawn hours of October 3, 2013, armed deputies raided the homes of R.J. Johnson, Deborah Jordahl, and several others in a paramilitary style blitz across Wisconsin. The detainees weren't terrorists bent on mass murder or the overthrow of the government. The agents weren't looking for contraband narcotics or illegal firearms. In fact, no one was quite sure what they wanted, but agents got it all; computers, phones, business records, files, and communications dating back years. Deputies told the raided subjects to keep quiet or there would be consequences, as a pedophile might tell his prey.
The targets represent only a fraction of political activists sucked into Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm's "John Doe" – a grand-jury-type mechanism Wisconsin prosecutors prefer for its secrecy. Chisholm accuses them of "illegal talking" by coordinating messaging, which is supposedly forbidden under Wisconsin's prolix campaign finance code. The investigation, which Chisholm has expanded 18 times, has engulfed advocates, large and small, for years on end. His favorite tactic is bulk intimidation. Alongside raids and gag orders, he employs kitchen-sink subpoenas, many of which are eventually quashed at great legal expense. When he fails to get sufficient obeisance, he serves arrest warrants and sends people to jail on nonexistent charges. One judge reviewing a John Doe prosecutor's actions stated, "The conduct described is nothing that we as Wisconsinites should be proud of, bottom line . . . . Mr. Landgraf was behaving badly, probably for political reasons."
America had never seen anything like it. Dozens of ordinary people, some of them unpaid volunteers, were swept up in a terrifying political dragnet. But the "evidence" in the cases being investigated was so badly mishandled that key details were leaked about the prosecutor's methods. The resulting outcry eventually led to the shutdown of the investigation by the Wisconsin Supreme Court, who found no evidence of illegal activity on the part of the prosecutor. But one justice, writing for the majority, said, "It is utterly clear that the prosecutor has employed theories of law that do not exist in order to investigate citizens who were wholly innocent of any wrongdoing."
Chisolm's wife Colleen was a teacher union shop steward whose job was directly affected by Walker's curb on union power. Both were Democratic activists.
Now, after an exhaustive investigation, the attorney general of Wisconsin, Brad Schimel, has issued a report that recommends contempt charges against the prosecutor and that professional sanctions be imposed on one of his investigators.
In a 91-page report made public Wednesday, the Republican attorney general sharply criticized the probe's leaders for engaging in an overly broad investigation and failing to secure the vast amounts of evidence seized. He contended contempt proceedings should be initiated against special prosecutor Francis Schmitz and the team he led for how they handled seized material after courts told them they could not review it further or had to get rid of it.
Schimel also wants to seek professional sanctions against Shane Falk, who served as an attorney for the now-defunct Government Accountability Board, as part of his investigation into the leak of secret John Doe material to the Guardian U.S.
"The systemic and pervasive mishandling of John Doe evidence likely resulted in circumstances allowing the Guardian leak in the first place, and now prevents prosecutors from proving criminal liability beyond a reasonable doubt," the report says
Jefferson Circuit Court Judge William Hue made Schimel's report public Wednesday. Hue, who is overseeing the wrap-up of the Doe investigation, wrote in a brief order that he would consider Schimel's request for contempt proceedings.
Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm and Schmitz ran the investigation into whether the Republican governor's campaign illegally worked with conservative groups in recall elections. Chisholm is a Democrat and Schmitz has identified himself as a Republican.
The state Supreme Court shut down the investigation in 2015, finding nothing illegal had occurred.
What is truly frightening about this story is that the Democratic prosecutor apparently acted within the law when his goons rousted ordinary people from their homes at gunpoint. As The Federalist's Paul Jossey points out:
Chisholm's John Doe represents the worst kind of legal thuggery, rife with personal enmity, conflicts of interests [sic], and professional skullduggery. Unfortunately victims are left with little practical recourse. The laws, judicial doctrines, and disciplinary structures that shield Chisholm and his cohorts should be reformed to prevent this type of abuse from ever happening again.
Prosecutors have been given enormous leeway to enforce the law. But they are expected to behave within the bounds of propriety, non-partisanship, and common decency. Chisholm not only crossed the line; he obliterated it. The least that can be done to punish him is to try him for contempt.