Judge Tries to Order Destruction of Evidence in Campaign Corruption Investigation Relating to Wisconsin Gov. Walker

Tuesday, May 13, 2014
Judge Rudolph Randa (AP photo)

An ongoing investigation into the 2012 recall campaign that targeted Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, which seeks to determine if the Republican official illegally coordinated campaign activities with supporters, has been temporarily derailed by a federal judge.

 

In response to a lawsuit brought by one of Walker’s backers, U.S. District Judge Rudolph Randa ordered the special prosecutor conducting the recall investigation to destroy all evidence obtained so far during the probe.

 

Randa said the investigation had violated the free-speech rights of the Wisconsin Club for Growth, the local chapter of a national pro-Republican organization. The judge, who was appointed to the bench in 1992 by President George H.W. Bush, said the probe amounted to harassment and should cease.

 

“The (Wisconsin Club for Growth and its treasurer) have found a way to circumvent campaign finance laws, and that circumvention should not and cannot be condemned or restricted. Instead, it should be recognized as promoting political speech, an activity that is ‘ingrained in our culture,’” Randa wrote in his ruling (pdf).

 

Francis Schmitz, the special prosecutor, then petitioned the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals following Randa’s ruling. The appellate court stayed the decision, saying Randa should not have halted the probe while he weighs an appeal from Schmitz, who disagreed with another ruling that said he could be sued by the Wisconsin Club for Growth.

 

The probe has been carried out under a state law that allows prosecutors to conduct so-called John Doe investigations in secret but with judicial supervision. Schmitz contends the same law grants him immunity from lawsuits.

 

University of Wisconsin-Madison law professor Ben Kempinen told the Wisconsin State Journal that Randa’s move to stop the investigation was extraordinary. “I have never heard of another situation in which a federal judge has intervened in an ongoing state investigation of possible law violations,” Kempinen said.

 

Although the circuit court stayed Randa’s ruling, it gave him grounds to reinstate his temporary order calling for the investigation’s halt, which he did. The matter now is on hold until the Seventh Circuit holds a hearing sometime after July 30.

 

Meanwhile, Schmitz continues to battle other legal efforts seeking to derail the investigation. Another lawsuit was filed to block subpoenas Schmitz had issued, and still another suit has asked the state Supreme Court to end the investigation.

-Noel Brinkerhoff

 

To Learn More:

What's Next in Walker Investigation after Judge's Ruling? (by Scott Bauer, Associated Press)

Appeals Court Delays Walker's Big Win (by Scott Bauer, Associated Press)

Federal Judge Halts John Doe Probe into Walker Recall (by Daniel Bice and Patrick Marley, Journal Sentinel)

GOP-Appointed Judge Tries To Save Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker By Stopping Anti-Corruption Probe (by Steven Rosenfeld, AlterNet)

Judge’s Order Tossing ‘John Doe’ Investigation Is Stayed (by Dee J. Hall, Wisconsin State Journal)

Eric O’Keefe v. Francis Schmitz (U.S. District Court, Eastern Wisconsin) (pdf)

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