By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON, Wis. — Democrats have brought a counterterrorism prosecutor to a First Amendment fight.
That’s how the legal battle is shaping up in a high-profile, not-so-secret investigation of Wisconsin conservatives — a probe driven by the Democrat-led Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office hoping to bring down Gov. Scott Walker, multiple sources say.
The court-administered dragnet has named Francis D. Schmitz special prosecutor. As Wisconsin Reporter detailed earlier this month, Schmitz, now in private practice in Waukesha, worked for several years in the U.S. Department of Justice’s counterterrorism operations.
Schmitz, however, has no discernible expertise in First Amendment or elections law — and that, sources told Wisconsin Reporter, is the legal arena in which this battle will unfold.
Documents published on the Wisconsin Court System website on Thursday reveal three “unnamed petitioners” targeted in the John Doe have brought in heavy-hitting defense experts in First Amendment and campaign finance law.
The three unidentified individuals filed motions in the Madison-based Court of Appeals District 4 seeking to stop the secret investigation.
“If you just look at the resumes, you get a pretty clear picture of where each side thinks this case is going,” a source close to the targets of the John Doe investigation said. “The Democrats — the prosecutors — believe this is a kind of gang investigation. The other side is clearly gearing up for a free speech fight on the basics of election law.”
Among the targets’ lead attorneys is Kansas City, Mo., lawyer Todd P. Graves, who specializes in political speech and election law and internal investigations.
Perhaps the greatest irony: Milwaukee prosecutors also will confront Washington, D.C. lawyer Michael Bresnick. A partner at Stein Mitchell Muse & Cipollone LLP, Bresnick served as executive director of President Barack Obama’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force, working alongside U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on “significant financial fraud matters and investigations.”
“Bresnick created enforcement initiatives and helped set priorities for the nation’s criminal and civil attorneys relating to all types of financial fraud, including fraud in the securitization and sale of residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS), investment fraud, mortgage fraud, mass-marketing consumer fraud, suspension and debarment actions by government agencies, Bank Secrecy Act, and anti-money laundering policies and procedures,” according to his website.
- Edward H. Meyers, a partner in Bresnick’s firm, and an expert in disputes involving state and federal agencies.
- Madison attorney Dean Strang, who defends people accused in crimes in state and federal court, is representing another individual in the case. According to court documents, Strang filed one motion requesting the John Doe investigation be sent immediately to the state Supreme Court.
- Milwaukee-area attorney Matthew O’Neill, who defended the Milwaukee County executive against a federal civil rights claim.
One Wisconsin legal expert close to the investigation said the targeted conservatives’ counsel know their way around free speech and campaign finance cases.
“There’s going to be a lot of money resisting this,” the source said on condition of anonymity.
The expert said Strang is a liberal and no fan of Scott Walker, but he is “not a fan of criminalizing political differences, either.”
Assistant District Attorney Bruce Landgraf launched the latest John Doe probe in early 2012, according to sources. Multiple sources have told Wisconsin Reporter the investigation is looking at what the prosecution believes to be possible campaign coordination violations during the state’s 2011 recall elections.
Landgraf’s team includes an anti-gang prosecutor and others in the district attorney’s office, but no one with the kind of speech-defense expertise found in the petitioners’ resume
“If he (Landgraf) doesn’t like to be challenged, he’s in for a very unpleasant time. He’s got a tiger by the tail, and he’s not up to it,” the legal expert said.
None of the three petitioners’ attorneys returned Wisconsin Reporter’s phone calls. Graves’ assistant said the attorney would not comment now, and quickly hung up.
The motions were initially filed against Kenosha County reserve Judge Barbara A. Kluka, who had served as presiding judge in the investigation. As Wisconsin Reporter first reported last month, Kluka recused herself.
Retired Appeals Court Judge Gregory Peterson has since taken Kluka’s place and is now named as the Doe judge respondent.
Also named as respondents, Schmitz and Milwaukee County Judge Jeffrey A. Kremers, chief judge of the First Judicial Administrative District.
Contact M.D. Kittle at firstname.lastname@example.org
This story was originally published at 7:17 p.m. Nov. 19.
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