Court rules Wisconsin ‘John Doe’ investigation against conservatives can go on

February 4, 2014 | Joe Schoffstall - 4 Comments

The Wisconsin Court of Appeals has effectively ruled the secret “John Doe’ investigation into conservative groups and allies of Gov. Scott Walker can proceed, rejecting the motion filed by some of the targets.

“Thursday’s decision by the 4th District Court of Appeals based in Madison included rejection of a request by the three unnamed targets to send the matter to the state Supreme Court. The petitioners argued the high court would likely hear the matter regardless of how the Court of Appeals ruled,” writes The Journal Times.

They continue, “The appeals panel also rejected arguments challenging the legality of having one judge and a single prosecutor running a multi-county probe. A brief written by the petitioners described the arrangement as ‘far outside the bounds of Wisconsin law.”

The court also made public hundreds of pages of documents that were sealed dealing with the investigation.

The documents show the investigation began on Sep. 5, 2012 in the office of Milwaukee County District Attorney  John Chisholm — as Capitol City Project previously reported.  Chisholm also led the last “John Doe” investigation against conservative groups in Wisconsin. This is the second “John Doe” probe within a three year span launched against conservatives.

On Jan. 18, 2013, Chisholm asked Republican Attorney General J.B Van Hollen to conduct the investigation after he claimed to have evidence that “suggested criminal campaign finance violations may have been committed by residents of Columbia, Dane, Dodge and Iowa counties.” Van Hollen responded months later on May 31, 2013, and refused for conflict of interest reasons and recommended the Government Accountability Board (GAB).

After this, five prosecutors met with the board. The prosecutors included Ismael Ozanne of Dane County, Jane Kohlwey of Columbia County, Kurt Klomberg of Dodge County and Larry Nelson of Iowa County — and Chisholm.

When they decided the GAB could not handle the probe, they then asked judge Barbara Kluka to appoint Francis Schmitz to lead the effort. Kluka, who was the “John Doe” judge during that time period, was appointed by Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson — who leads the court in the three-member liberal minority. The current judge involved in the probe, Judge Gregory Peterson, was also appointed by Abrahamson.

Francis Schmitz later hit dozens of conservative groups with subpoenas demanding documents related to the 2011 and 2012 campaigns to recall Governor Walker and state legislative leaders. During this time, homes were raided and computers were confiscated.

A person with knowledge of the search warrants said they came at the requests of a man named Dean Nickel.

“A person who has seen one of the Wisconsin search warrants tells us that the warrants were executed based on the request of Dean Nickel, who filed an affidavit for probable cause.,” wrote the Wall Street Journal on Nov. 18. “Mr. Nickel is a former head of the Wisconsin Department of Justice Public Integrity Unit and has worked as an investigator for the GAB. Mr. Nickel told us he is a contractor for the GAB but wouldn’t discuss the John Doe probe. GAB Director and General Counsel Kevin Kennedy declined to comment.”

Recently, Judge Gregory A. Peterson blocked the subpoenas given to some targeted groups saying they “do not show probable cause that the moving parties committed any violations of the campaign finance laws.”  The subpoenas were issued under the guise of a campaign finance probe. “There is no evidence of express advocacy,” wrote Judge Peterson within the opinion. “The subpoenas fail to show probable cause that a crime was committed.”

The most recent ruling allowing the “John Doe” investigation to continue was headed by Judge Brian Blanchard, who is the former Democratic District Attorney of Dane County. Other members included Judge Paul Lundsten, who was appointed by Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson, and Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg, who is backed by liberals.

During “John Doe” investigations, those involved cannot publicly talk about the occurrences with anyone besides their attorneys. “John Doe probes work much like a grand jury, allowing prosecutors to issue subpoenas and conduct searches, while the gag orders leave the targets facing the resources of the state with no way to publicly defend themselves,” writes the WSJ.

While gagged by provisions, a source close to told the Wisconsin Reporter they believe this is a taxpayer funded campaign simply for opposition research purposes.

“This is a taxpayer-funded, opposition-research campaign,” one source said. “This is not a question of what conservatives did wrong. It’s a question of one party in this state using prosecutorial powers to conduct a one-sided investigation into conservatives.”

“Investigators are spying on people and using the power of government to collect records,” said another source with knowledge of the occurrences.


More from Capitol City Project on the Wisconsin “John Doe” investigation:

1. Homes raided, subpoenas issued targeting conservative groups and allies of Scott Walker

2. Judge with ties to Wisconsin John Doe probe into conservative groups signed Scott Walker recall petition

3. Wisconsin ‘John Doe’ investigation subpoenas blocked against allies of Scott Walker

4. Wisconsin ‘John Doe’ target demands prosecutors end retaliatory probe or face federal civil rights lawsuit


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Joe Schoffstall

Joe Schoffstall is a Reporter and Editor at Capitol City Project. Previously, he worked as a Multimedia Reporter at the Media Research Center (MRCTV,

His work has been featured on numerous outlets including the Drudge Report, Fox News, CBS News, ABC News, Yahoo News, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, and The Huffington Post-- among many others.

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