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Conservative targets bring in big guns to Democrat-led John Doe fight

By   /   November 20, 2013  /   No Comments

Part 11 of 41 in the series Wisconsin's Secret War
AP file photo

ON THE CASE: Madison attorney Dean Strang, who defends people accused in crimes in state and federal court, is representing another individual in John Doe investigation. According to court documents, Strang filed one motion requesting the John Doe investigation be sent immediately to the state Supreme Court.


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.

Others include:

  • 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 mkittle@watchdog.org

This story was originally published at 7:17 p.m. Nov. 19.


Part of 41 in the series Wisconsin's Secret War
  1. Sources: Secret probe targeting conservatives is abuse of prosecutorial powers
  2. Scary! Phantom prosecutor in Dems’ war on conservatives disappears inside courthouse
  3. EXCLUSIVE: Judge in Democrat-led John Doe probe recuses herself
  4. Democrats’ ‘intelligence-gathering’ spreads in Wisconsin
  5. Democrats tap anti-terror expert to head secret probe of Wisconsin conservatives
  6. Sheriff Clarke: John Doe case shows Milwaukee DA is ‘weaponized for political purposes’
  7. Clarke: John Doe into conservatives ‘unbridled,’ ‘dangerous’ and ‘tainted’
  8. Sources: New judge named in Democrat-led secret probe
  9. Vendetta justice? Criticism growing about John Doe prosecutor Bruce Landgraf
  10. Will Wisconsin’s own ‘Miserable’ inspector jail conservative activist for speaking out about Dem probe?
  11. Conservative targets bring in big guns to Democrat-led John Doe fight
  12. ‘Dangerous’ game: Former FEC official blasts Democrats’ secret investigation of conservative groups
  13. Center for Media and Democracy: Liberals are morally superior
  14. Wisconsin Dems suddenly support political investigations
  15. WI Republican attorney general to represent judges in Democrat-led John Doe probe
  16. Republicans speak out about silent John Doe targeting conservatives
  17. Biggest secret in John Doe may be just how judges and special prosecutors are selected
  18. WSJ: John Doe judge deals body blow to secret probe targeting conservatives
  19. Vos: Wait until John Doe in ‘rearview mirror’ before revisiting law
  20. Lawsuits looming in Wisconsin’s crumbling John Doe probe?
  21. Conservative to Democrat prosecutors: Shut down secret political probe or face civil rights lawsuit
  22. John Doe target O’Keefe taking on IRS, too
  23. Lawmaker: Wisconsin’s John Doe like Christie’s ‘Bridgegate’
  24. Target files civil rights lawsuit against Wisconsin’s John Doe prosecutors
  25. Disparate treatment: Civil rights lawsuit claims conservative speech trampled
  26. Liberal group looking to take Wisconsin’s John Doe national
  27. John Doe judge: ‘Results of the John Doe speak for themselves’
  28. John Doe special prosecutor appeals judge’s ruling quashing subpoenas
  29. John Doe prosecutor pushed for brain-damaged man’s conviction in ATF debacle
  30. Conservatives counterpunch John Doe prosecutors’ move to stall injunction
  31. Shadowy John Doe investigator invokes federalism in civil rights lawsuit
  32. John Doe prosecutors wanted higher-priced lawyers, source says
  33. Secret agent Dean Nickel’s defense: ‘Dean Nickel is not responsible’
  34. D’oh! John Doe prosecutors claim secrecy protection – after filing secret documents
  35. Recusal in John Doe case raises questions of fairness, purpose
  36. Absolute immunity makes it tough to prosecute the prosecutors of John Doe
  37. Poll suggests Dems’ big ‘secret’ weapon against Walker is backfiring
  38. ‘Easy target’: Kelly Rindfleisch breaks silence about John Doe probe
  39. SCOTUS ruling on campaign finance shows abuse of John Doe, targets say
  40. Nobody will say what John Doe’s shadow man did, but taxpayers are paying his legal bill
  41. Judge denies John Doe prosecutors’ move to dismiss civil rights suit

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M.D. Kittle