My column for the West Bend Daily News is online. Here it is:
The Wisconsin Supreme Court issued a ruling last week that finally put an end to the outrageous John Doe investigation of alleged campaign laws violations between Gov. Scott Walker’s recall campaign and third-party organizations. It was a sweeping, forceful and utterly definitive ruling with the only disappointment being it was not unanimous.
In combining and resolving three cases regarding the John Doe investigation, the ruling made it crystal clear when Justice Michael Gableman stated, “Let one point be clear: Our conclusion today ends this unconstitutional John Doe investigation.” The court also ruled, “It is utterly clear that the special prosecutor has employed theories of law that do not exist in order to investigate citizens who were wholly innocent of any wrongdoing. In other words, the special prosecutor was the instigator of a perfect storm of wrongs that was visited upon the innocent unnamed movants and those who dared to associate with them.”
The ruling gives some details about the John Doe investigation that were previously secret that show how utterly out of control the prosecutor was in this investigation. It is easy to read the ruling and see it as a win for Walker and paint it with a partisan hue, but evaluating the issues involved — absent the political ramifications — reveal just how important it is for protecting our liberty.
As a people, we invest our prosecutors with a tremendous amount of power and legal protections that allow them to levy that power. In return, we expect prosecutors to be the pinnacle of discretion and measured judgment when using that power. The power of a prosecutor to investigate, charge and try citizens has enormous ramifications for the prosecutor’s target. Even if the one being investigated and prosecuted is innocent, it can cost them savings, privacy, reputation and peace of mind.
In this case, the facts show the John Doe prosecutors shockingly abused their power. They swept up emails, computers, files and other information about people on their hit list, including personal material and material from months prior to when Walker’s recall election even started. Much of this material was not, and could not have been, related to recall election politics. Worse than that, the prosecutors used tactics usually reserved for violent gang members like pre-dawn paramilitary raids on the targets’ homes — scaring children — and demanding that they remain silent as the investigation leaked damaging documents to the media. And all of this was done for something that, as several judges who ruled prior to the Wisconsin Supreme Court said, was not even a crime.
What happened here is clear. The John Doe prosecutors willfully and maliciously abused their power to intimidate conservative advocates into silence and damage their ability to participate in Wisconsin’s political conversation. They did so while concealing their actions behind the secrecy protections of the John Doe process and the protections afforded all prosecutors from being held accountable for their actions.
As it stands, the John Doe prosecutors have suffered a legal defeat, but have not been held accountable for their egregious abuse of power. While the targets of their investigation have suffered great harm despite their confirmed innocence, the prosecutors have not felt any consequences for their actions. If Wisconsinites are to have confidence in our prosecutors to use their vast powers in a judicious, non-partisan, fair and humble manner, the John Doe prosecutors must be held responsible for abusing that power. While some of the victims of their abuse are seeking relief in civil suits, the prosecutors should be investigated for criminal wrongdoing.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court has affirmed Wisconsinites’ constitutional-protected freedom of speech — even if that speech rankles liberal partisan prosecutors in Milwaukee. While the damage cannot be undone, justice demands consequences.