By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON – Nearly three years in the making, the Milwaukee County District Attorney office’s John Doe investigation into former aides and associates of Gov. Scott Walker racked up a lot of man hours and, presumably, a lot of tax dollars.
Just how much? Taxpayers apparently will never know.
In response to Wisconsin Reporter’s open records request seeking an accounting of the cost of the super-secret probe officially closed late last month, Milwaukee County Deputy District Attorney James J. Martin said the office “cannot estimate the costs of the John Doe investigation.”
“Unlike a private law firm that bills clients, district attorney state and county employees do not keep time records for a particular investigation or prosecution,” Martin wrote Sunday in an email response to Wisconsin Reporter. “Likewise, we do not charge operating expenses in the county accounting and purchasing system to a particular investigation or prosecution.”
But the politically charged John Doe was not your run-of-the-mill investigation. Critics saw the probe as a witch hunt, an ever-expanding fishing expedition, against a Republican governor despised by the left. The investigation, which concluded without charges against Walker, was fuel for a recall campaign against the governor. Walker survived that, too.
The probe, bound by the strictest of confidentiality guards but often more leaky than a busted bucket, did bring charges against six people, three of whom were former Walker aides when he was Milwaukee County executive. Two of those aides were convicted and sentenced, accused of campaigning for Walker’s 2010 run for governor on the taxpayer’s dime.
Another aide, Timothy Russell, Walker’s former deputy chief of staff in Milwaukee County, was sentenced to two years in prison for stealing more than $21,000 from veterans funds, Walker’s pet projects. Kevin Kavanaugh, whom Walker had appointed to the Milwaukee County Veterans Service Commission, received the same sentence after being convicted of taking more than $50,000 from the veterans programs.
But the investigation, which had never accused Walker of any wrongdoing, ended without charging Walker — much to the dismay of Democrats.
“That Scott Walker avoided prosecution is no feather in his cap,” Graeme Zielinski, former spokesman for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last week said. “The crimes convicted flow directly from Scott Walker’s belief that he is above the law.”
Zielinski said all of that around the same time he took to Twitter to compare Walker to cannibalistic serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer.
Zielinski ultimately took down the tweets and apologized, but the Democratic Party fired the bombastic spokesman, although he reportedly will remain with the party as a media adviser.
There is no doubt about the massive time commitment of prosecutors and Milwaukee County D.A. staff involved in the John Doe investigation.
Former Appeals Court Judge Neal Nettesheim, who refereed the probe and shut it down last month, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that prosecutors reviewed thousands of documents and took testimony from hundreds of witnesses. “In addition, Milwaukee County officials raided the homes of several former Walker aides and seized documents from others,” the newspaper noted.
But none of that has to be accounted for, according to state law.
Wisconsin Reporter, attempting to receive a ballpark estimate of the investigation’s cost, asked the D.A.’s office if it could provide a count of the employees involved and their salaries.
Martin responded that the D.A.’s office does not have a “record or list the state and county employees that worked on the John Doe investigation during the past three years,” simply noting that many state and county employees were involved, “in small, middling, or large part, in the investigation.”
Martin referred to Wisconsin’s public records law, which “does not require an authority to create a new record by extracting information from existing records and compiling the information in a new format.”
The law further points to George v. Record Custodian, noting “the open records law affords the right to inspect or make or receive a copy of a ‘record.’ A nonexistent record cannot be inspected or copied. The open records law does not require the custodian to collect or compile statistics or create a record for the benefit of the requester.”
While the records of man hours and the cost of them may not exist, prosecutors and staff members were assigned to this particular investigation, when their time, expertise and taxpayer-supported wages could have been spent on another case or prosecutorial initiative.
Wisconsin Reporter asked state Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen for comment on the apparent lack of accounting in the Milwaukee County John Doe investigation. Dana Brueck, spokeswoman for the attorney general, said she is not aware of any legal requirement for a DA to track employee time, or expenses, spent on particular matters.
She did not respond further to Wisconsin’s Reporters follow-up email asking how Van Hollen felt about the legal requirements — or lack thereof — involving the tracking of public costs associated with John Doe investigations.
Contact Matt Kittle at email@example.com