By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON, Wis. — A ruling by the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals maintaining some documents under seal and opening up others for public consumption is a “vindication” of conservatives’ charges of prosecutorial abuse in Wisconsin’s politically charged John Doe investigation, according to an attorney for targets of the probe.
The appeals court on Thursday granted in large part motions by conservative activist Eric O’Keefe and Wisconsin Club for Growth to seal several documents involved in the case, while denying the sealing of others. In all, the court has granted the unsealing of some two dozen document, while keeping 10 completely or partially sealed.
“We have always said the public has right to know about the abuse of conduct by the defendants in this case, and we are gratified by the court’s decision today that will allow the public to have better understanding of what’s happened,” Andrew Grossman, an attorney for O’Keefe and the club, told Wisconsin Reporter.
The court’s decision was swift.
Earlier this week, the conservatives, again, asked that the 7th Circuit seal four affidavits filed by the prosecutors-turned-defendants, as well as a “handful of related documents relying on them.”
They argued, citing a key Supreme Court decision, the documents are protected by their First Amendment rights because public disclosure would “seriously infringe on privacy of association and belief guaranteed” under the Constitution.
O’Keefe and the club charge the prosecutors “stuffed the record (and their briefs) with lengthy affidavits consisting of email messages, phone records, bank records, and the like that they had seized through raids or subpoenas.”
“These materials concern fundraising, strategy, messaging, and other speech and associational activities by Plaintiffs and parties with whom they have associated to advance their policy goals,” the conservatives claim.
It appears the court granted the plaintiffs’ request on all four affidavits, and all but one of five remaining documents under seal. A source familiar with the case tells Wisconsin Reporter the document involves a Club for Growth donor who has allowed his name to go into the sealed record in order to testify about the harassment and retribution he has faced as a result of the secret investigation.
Wisconsin Report asked Grossman about the matter, but the attorney said, as of Thursday afternoon, that information remained under seal and he couldn’t identify the donor.
The court didn’t set a timeline for the release of the unsealed court documents; the records could be made public as soon as late Thursday afternoon.
O’Keefe and the club have asked that many of the records be open for public review. They say “(e)xcessive secrecy” surrounding the investigation has “frustrated the public’s right to be informed of the activities of its government and elected representatives.”
“The result has been, until quite recently, to keep the public in the dark regarding a massive abuse of governmental power by officials wielding criminal law to intimidate activists and silence political speech,” the plaintiffs argue.
Still, they assert there are reasonable limits on what information should be unsealed.
The 7th Circuit has dealt expeditiously with the issues before it since taking the case.
In May, U.S. District Court Judge Rudolph Randa shut down the investigation, launched in late summer 2012 by Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, a Democrat. Randa also denied the motion of prosecutors-turned-defendants — including Chisholm, two of his assistant DAs, John Doe special prosecutor Francis Schmitz, and a contracted investigator — to dismiss the civil rights lawsuit filed against them.
The prosecutors immediately appealed to the 7th Circuit.
The appeals court previously issued the release of hundreds of pages of court documents in the case, in which a media coalition had sought to intervene to unseal the John Doe records. A member of that coalition didn’t immediately return Wisconsin Reporter’s request for comment.
Grossman said the court’s ruling Wednesday vindicates the conservatives’ claims their First Amendment rights have been injured, abuses that include attacks on their political speech and association rights.
The lawsuit, filed in February, claims Chisholm and crew, in their multi-county investigation into dozens of conservative organizations, and only conservative organizations, was nothing more than a partisan witch hunt, retaliation for the right’s big policy victories in recent years.
As spelled out in previous court documents, the prosecutors have been operating under a legal theory the conservative groups may have illegally coordinated with the campaign of Republican Gov. Scott Walker during Wisconsin’s partisan recall elections.
Earlier this summer, mainstream media headlines screamed of a “criminal scheme” led by Walker, verbiage included in the court documents previously unsealed. In short order, Schmitz’s attorney released a statement asserting Walker wasn’t a target of the investigation.
Sources say documents slated to be released will clear up that confusion.
Sources also tell Wisconsin Reporter the court-ordered documents dump will for the first time open up briefings by O’Keefe and the club that will more clearly explain conservatives’ charges of prosecutorial abuse.
The 7th Circuit also granted some of the prosecutors’ motions to seal certain documents, including Schmitz’s concurrence with most of the conservatives’ motions.
And the court granted the prosecutors’ request to file redacted versions of their court filings in the public record.
“Appellants shall file by August 26, 2014, new versions of their redacted briefs that exclude only the information this court has now permitted to remain under seal,” the ruling states.
“The parties may raise any arguments regarding the sealed documents at oral argument” in the appeal, slated for Sept. 9.
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- John Doe special prosecutor appeals judge’s ruling quashing subpoenas
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- Conservatives counterpunch John Doe prosecutors’ move to stall injunction
- Shadowy John Doe investigator invokes federalism in civil rights lawsuit
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- Secret agent Dean Nickel’s defense: ‘Dean Nickel is not responsible’
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- Recusal in John Doe case raises questions of fairness, purpose
- Absolute immunity makes it tough to prosecute the prosecutors of John Doe
- Poll suggests Dems’ big ‘secret’ weapon against Walker is backfiring
- ‘Easy target’: Kelly Rindfleisch breaks silence about John Doe probe
- SCOTUS ruling on campaign finance shows abuse of John Doe, targets say
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- Judge denies John Doe prosecutors’ move to dismiss civil rights suit
- Civil rights expert: John Doe law is ‘un-American,’ like something from ‘Nazi Germany’
- Target: John Doe prosecutors making up campaign law as they go along
- John Doe, as it is being used, must go, WI senator says
- John Doe target says prosecutors latest move another delay tactic
- John Doe prosecutors sound defensive in latest court filings
- Federal judge denies John Doe prosecutors’ motion to stall civil rights case
- Media coalition asks judge to open sealed John Doe documents
- Are John Doe prosecutors sweating out federal judge’s decision?
- John Doe is dead: Judge stops WI prosecutors’ probe into conservatives
- This is what the Fourth Amendment looks like?
- What’s next for now-defunct John Doe probe?
- Appeals court stalls judge’s order halting John Doe probe
- Federal judge’s ruling could open up sealed John Doe records
- Federal judge orders John Doe probe shut down again
- Lawmakers call for review of GAB’s secret John Doe activities, funds
- Lawyers, lawyers everywhere and other dispatches from John Doe Land
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- Appeals Court declares portions of Wisconsin campaign finance law unconstitutional
- John Doe prosecutors suddenly support opening sealed court records
- Expert: It’s as if GAB decided ‘Citizens United didn’t exist’
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- State Farm still doesn’t want to cover John Doe prosecutor’s legal bills
- For the Walker-hating left, John Doe is ‘Mission Accomplished’
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- John Doe targets sue Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board
- Federal judge says his order halting John Doe probe should be clear to prosecutor
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- Appeals court upholds judge’s order shutting down John Doe probe
- O’Keefe keeps collecting big wins in John Doe lawsuit
- John Doe I judge says he’s not responsible for John Doe II
- Will taxpayers have to pay for frivolity of John Doe prosecutors?
- John Doe prosecutors jump back into the dark?
- What about those prosecutors? Questions surround other John Doe DAs
- Humiliated in court, WI Dems take their anti-conservative John Doe probe to the media
- Federal judge blasts John Doe prosecutors – again – as he denies records release
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- Wall Street Journal points out ‘disgrace’ of mainstream John Doe reporting
- Expert: John Doe raids raise ‘troubling’ Fourth Amendment questions
- Kelly Rindfleisch tells conservatives, ‘Don’t back down’
- Mainstream media forced to walk back Walker ‘criminal scheme’ narrative
- John Doe prosecutors engaged in premature justification, conservatives say
- Is John Doe probe a case of a mini NSA in Wisconsin?
- AG opinion means accountability board’s John Doe secrets are safe — for now
- Senator asks attorney general to compel GAB to open up its books
- GAB now playing secrets in state John Doe lawsuit
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- John Doe prosecutors engaged in war of words — lots and lots of words
- Judge denies conservatives’ request to add GAB to civil rights lawsuit
- Oral arguments set in John Doe prosecutors’ appeal
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- Senator: Looks like accountability board is hiding something
- Kelly Rindfleisch appeal to test validity of John Doe digital searches
- Conservatives in John Doe battle know disclosure comes with a heavy price
- Appeals court orders release of some John Doe documents
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- Overheated media erroneously bring back Walker ‘criminal scheme’ theme
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- Conservatives appeal to common sense in John Doe appeals case
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