By M.D. Kittle Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON – A southeast Wisconsin district attorney tells Wisconsin Reporter that a Milwaukee County assistant DA’s seemingly private request for public records in the Gov. Scott Walker-related John Doe investigation was “rather unusual” and “odd.”
In a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story this week reporting that the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s super-secret investigation, the piece notes the prosecutor sought state records apparently using his private email account.
That information isn’t apparent until some 15 paragraphs into the story, but it does report that Milwaukee County Assistant District Attorney David Robles made the open records request on June 18 without using official DA office letterhead. Robles also did not provide his job title, the story noted.
“His requests also provide what appears to be a private email account. He did list his official work address and phone number on the letters,” wrote Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Jason Stein, adding that Robles repeatedly refused to comment on the matter.
Milwaukee Journal investigative reporter Daniel Bice, who has done the lion’s share of the paper’s reporting on the probe, contributed to the story.
The DA’s office didn’t return Wisconsin Reporter’s request for comment either.
Associated Press versions of the story published in newspapers around the state and in publications elsewhere did not note Robles’ method of obtaining the information.
The brunt of the story was about how Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm’s two-year-plus John Doe investigation into former aides of the governor, mostly when he was Milwaukee County executive, has expanded into state government.
Records obtained by the newspaper “show that a Milwaukee County prosecutor sought personnel records from Walker’s office and another state agency in June and then met with a top state lawyer the next day.”
Waukesha County District Attorney Brad Schimel tells Wisconsin Reporter that he finds the Milwaukee County prosecutor’s methods “rather unusual.”
“If a DA is looking for information from a government body, you don’t have to make an open records request. We subpoena or ask for it. Government agencies really don’t want to hide things from John Doe investigation,” Schimel said.
There are penalties for failing to hand over information in the secret probes that place strict gag orders on those called to testify or provide information.
“It does strike me as odd to do it in a way that doesn’t make this seem like an official act,” Schimel added. “I would announce who I am.”
The district attorney, like anyone outside the probe’s cone of silence, said he isn’t privy to the reasons and motivations surrounding the records requests. He offered that Robles could have filed the request privately to avoid media exposure, a way to prevent a subject who may be “corrupt or might have something to hide” from learning of the request.
“I do not know the circumstances. It could be a legitimate reason to approach something under cover, but it is unusual” Schimel said.
The Waukesha County district attorney is a Republican.
Chisholm is a Democrat. Walker supporters have accused the Milwaukee County DA of conducting nothing more than an extended fishing expedition.
The probe has led to criminal charges against four former Walker aides or appointees in Milwaukee County. Former aide Darlene Wink pleaded guilty to misdemeanor counts for campaigning on taxpayer time. Three others have been charged with felonies but have pleaded not-guilty.
Walker has not been accused of any wrong-doing.
The governor told the Associated Press that he’s not concerned about the expanded investigation, and that it has not been a distraction.
“We’re focused on jobs. We’re focused on getting ready for the next budget,” the governor said, as quoted in the Journal Sentinel. “It really hasn’t been a factor.”
Whether Robels is in full compliance with attorney ethics codes is unclear.
Keith Sellen, director of the state Office of Lawyer Regulation, declined to comment on the matter saying it’s the kind of situation that could come to his office for review.
The Wisconsin District Attorney’s Association could not immediately be reached for comment Friday afternoon. The association aims to promote professionalism in Wisconsin’s prosecutors through education, information, liaison and informal interaction, according to its website.
Schimel, Waukesha County DA since 2006, said he has been involved in John Doe probes in his legal tenure but never has he sought information on a private account or without fully identifying his position.
“I don’t do official work with my home email. I don’t do official work anonymously,” he said.
Wisconsin Reporter has an open records request filed with the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office seeking all information related to the probe.
Contact M.D. Kittle at firstname.lastname@example.org