By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON, Wis. — Earlier this year, Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. urged county residents to be prepared to protect themselves. Confronted by budget cuts, law enforcement couldn’t be counted on to quickly serve and protect.
“With officers laid-off and furloughed, simply calling 911 and waiting is no longer your best option,” Clarke said in the public service announcement that quickly went national. “You can beg for mercy from a violent criminal, hide under the bed, or you can fight back; but are you prepared?”
Now, Clarke says, the same county officials who in 2012 laid off 42 sheriff deputies in a department already shorthanded are on track to spend untold taxpayer dollars in a Democrat-run investigation into Wisconsin conservative groups.
“It appears to me that the prosecution out of Milwaukee County is becoming weaponized for political purposes,” the sheriff told Wisconsin Reporter on Tuesday.
Multiple sources close to the so-called John Doe probe have told Wisconsin Reporter that the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office, led by Democrat John Chisholm, has targeted state conservatives and even such national groups as Americans for Prosperity, Club for Growth and the Republican Governors Association.
A question of priorities
Though gagged by provisions of subpoenas sought by Milwaukee County Assistant District Attorney Bruce Landgraf and others, several sources have told Wisconsin Reporter the manifold legal attack on nonprofit political organizations has included after-hours visits to homes and offices; confiscated equipment and files; and demands for phone, email and other records. The sources have asked to remain anonymous due to their proximity to the investigation or to people connected to it.
The investigation, dubbed John Doe Two, follows and reportedly may have drawn on evidence gleaned during John Doe One, a nearly three-year secret probe into former aides and associates of Gov. Scott Walker when he was Milwaukee County executive. That court-sanctioned dragnet ended with six convictions but no findings of wrongdoing by Walker.
Clarke said he respects Chisholm’s authority to pursue whatever investigation the DA deems appropriate, but he questions the Democrat’s choices. The sheriff said he hears from prosecutors all the time that they don’t have the resources to go after one criminal charge or another – drunken driving, online sexual predators, heroin cases – but they have the time to pursue what Clarke describes as open-ended political witch hunts.
“That’s what bothers me. We can’t get certain investigations prosecuted so where does the money come from for stuff like this?” Clarke said.
The answer to that question is unclear.
Wisconsin Reporter reported in March that the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office would not even estimate the cost of John Doe One.
In an email response to Wisconsin Reporter’s open-record request at the time, Milwaukee County Deputy District Attorney James J. Martin said that, unlike a private law firm that bills clients, district attorneys and their employees don’t keep time records for specific investigations or prosecutions.
“Likewise, we do not charge operating expenses in the county accounting and purchasing system to a particular investigation or prosecution,” Martin said.
In short, prosecutors don’t have to tell taxpayers how much time and money went into a particular investigation.
Janine Geske, a distinguished professor of law in Marquette University Law School and former state Supreme Court judge, said much of the expense of John Doe investigations are covered through normal operations.
“A big district attorney’s office like Milwaukee is always allocating time for prosecutors,” Geske said. “They don’t hire outside resources.”
But Wisconsin Reporter has confirmed through multiple sources that the latest John Doe has enlisted the services of a special prosecutor, former federal counterterrorism expert Francis Schmitz.
And the judge’s time as well as the court reporting involved don’t come free.
The Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office booked total expenditures of $18,382,000 last year, according to the Milwaukee County Comptroller’s office. Local taxpayers were on the hook for more than $12 million of that. State taxpayers picked up about $3.5 million to pay the wages and benefits of the office’s 35 full-time equivalent prosecutors, and another $2.8 million was funded through grants, the comptroller said.
How much of that money went to John Doe I, or how much is going to John Doe II isn’t clear. Milwaukee County prosecutors have refused to talk about the super-secret investigations in any capacity; they are compelled by law not to.
Geske said in her experience on the bench she has found that party labels mean very little in the courtroom, that DA’s do a good job of keeping politics out of their work.
“My experience with prosecutors is they tend to be prosecutors not politicians,” the former judge said.
But Clarke has a different view of justice in Democrat-friendly Milwaukee County.
“I have to question the prioritization of what’s important in this county — to go after investigations that deal with serious crimes that affect everyday people or to spend money in these witch hunts in these obviously politically motivated investigations.”
Contact M.D. Kittle at firstname.lastname@example.org
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