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Target files civil rights lawsuit against Wisconsin’s John Doe prosecutors

By   /   February 10, 2014  /   No Comments

Part 24 of 41 in the series Wisconsin's Secret War

By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON, Wis. — The only target of a Democrat-driven John Doe investigation to speak out publicly against what many Wisconsin conservatives see as a political witch hunt has made good on his promise to take prosecutors to court, charging they violated his civil rights.

Eric O’Keefe and his Wisconsin Club for Growth filed a federal civil rights lawsuit Monday against the special prosecutor, the presiding judge and top prosecutors in the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office.

“This secret investigation and gag order on conservative activists is intended to stop their political successes in Wisconsin,” O’Keefe said in a news release. “The state cannot be allowed to silence political speech it does not like.”

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WAR OF WORDS: Eric O’Keefe, conservative activist and leader of the Wisconsin Club for Growth, filed a civil rights lawsuit Monday against the prosecutors of a secret John Doe investigation targeting conservative groups. ““The state cannot be allowed to silence political speech it does not like,” O’Keefe says.

The lawsuit, led by Washington, D.C., attorney David B. Rivkin Jr., contends “Milwaukee County prosecutors are abusing their authority in retaliation for the Club’s successful political activism in support of Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s ‘Budget Repair Bill,’” which reformed public-sector collective bargaining in the Badger State.

“Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm and his staff have spent the past four years prying into the affairs of Scott Walker, his associates, and his supporters in a series of John Doe proceedings,” the news release states.

Thelawsuit asks the U.S. Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin to enter an injunction blocking the John Doe investigation immediately and seeks monetary damages against the prosecutors for their violations of O’Keefe’s and the Club’s First Amendment rights.

Wisconsin’s unique John Doe probes act like grand jury investigations but grant a great deal of power and discretion to the judge and the prosecution in the court-administered dragnets. In this case,  individuals from dozens of conservative groups have been questioned, some subjected to pre-dawn raids and property seizures. Under the terms of the secret John Doe, the targets cannot not talk publicly about the investigation, under penalty of contempt of court charges and possible jail time.

O’Keefe seemingly has defied the gag order in calling out what he has described as “political payback by elected prosecutors against conservative activists for their political successes in Wisconsin.”

On Jan. 15, O’Keefe threatened a civil rights lawsuit if prosecutors did not immediately drop the investigation, which was launched by the Democrat-led Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office in August 2012, according to court documents.

O’Keefe’s claims were buoyed by presiding John Doe Judge Gregory Peterson, who in early January quashed several subpoenas filed against conservative targets and ordered the prosecution to return seized property.

O’Keefe’s Wisconsin Club for Growth — as well as Walker’s campaign, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce Inc. and Citizens for a Strong America — were victims of improper subpoenas, according to the judge. Peterson said the subpoenas “do not show probable cause that the moving parties committed any violations of the campaign finance laws,” according to the sealed opinion, obtained by the Wall Street Journal.

But the Madison-based state District IV Court of Appeals recently rejected motions by three conservative petitioners who sought to stop the John Doe and send the matter to the state Supreme Court. The targets argued in part that the previous presiding judge, retired Kenosha County District Court Judge Barbara Kluka, overstepped her authority and state law in conducting a multi-county John Doe investigation and in appointing special prosecutor Francis Schmitz.

The appeals court countered that the growing investigation is not a single probe but a several investigations, although they appear to be coordinated by a single special prosecutor.

“The lawsuit claims that the prosecutors’ actions — including harassment and threats of criminal prosecution — are intended to chill the Club’s and other conservatives’ First Amendment right to speak out on political issues,” stated the news release from O’Keefe’s attorney.

Chisholm, Schmitz and other prosecutors in the case repeatedly have declined comment on the investigation.

O’Keefe also challenges the prosecutors’ use of secrecy order to “limit public scrutiny of their actions, even as routine leaks have made the investigation a favorite topic of Walker’s opponents.” Due to those orders, the filing is heavily redacted, Rivkin said in the release.

“The First Amendment means that government officials cannot single out citizens for threats and abuse based on their political speech,” Rivkin said. “Our goal is to ensure that Wisconsinites of every political stripe can once again speak freely without fear of retribution by prosecutors wielding a political agenda.”

Contact M.D. Kittle at mkittle@watchdog.org

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