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Over the past few years, some of the most bitter, divisive politics in the nation have been taking place in Wisconsin. The primary combatants? Governor Scott Walker and the public sector unions. The heart of the trouble has been the Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill also known as Act 10:

  • The bill was designed to address a $3.6 billion budget deficit
  • It cut “collective bargaining, compensation, retirement, health insurance, and sick leave of public sector employees.”
  • The bill was passed in spite of massive protests
  • Its passage resulted in a recall effort against Walker in 2012, which failed

Despite bitter differences among both sides, these processes were decided democratically. However, democratic processes don’t count for much when public officials subvert them through the courts.

Enter DA John Chisholm.

Starting in 2010, Chisholm began launching a series of sweeping investigations into the Scott Walker campaign. The first of these “John Doe” investigations grew out of a 2009 request by Walker’s campaign to investigate possible embezzlement, however, “District Attorney Chisholm took the opportunity to focus his investigation mainly on Walker’s personal staff.” This investigation coincided with the 2010 gubernatorial elections, and resulted in sentences for several of Walker’s staffers.

The second “John Doe” investigation was launched in 2012 after the failed recall election. It alleged a criminal conspiracy to bypass campaign financing laws. In total, Chisholm targeted 29 conservative non-profit groups – nearly every conservative group in Wisconsin:

Those conservatives say that the long-running criminal investigation has unconstitutionally prevented them and their allies from participating in politics and tilted the political field to favor Democrats, whose campaign practices are almost identical to the Republicans’ but largely ignored by the prosecutors. The probe, conservatives say, has forced them to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal bills and harassed some of them with pre-dawn [paramilitary] raids on their suburban homes that seized cell phones and computers of all family members, including a child’s iPad. Prosecutors imposed “gag orders” to prevent the investigation’s targets from publicly complaining.

Is it merely coincidence that a Democrat DA has only pursued Republican targets? Of course not. Conservative groups have been targeted by numerous government agencies for unfair treatment, not the least of which is the IRS. Chisholm so far has only targeted Walker and the Republicans. But when a similar investigation of Wisconsin Democrats and Republicans took place in 2002, it “resulted in convictions of five legislators and several staff members from both parties.”

Personal Motives

What’s more worrying are the possible motivations for Chisholm’s actions. Although it could appear that he’s just engaging in standard winner-takes-all politics, it certainly looks like Chisholm has a personal stake in the affair. The primary opponents to Walker’s budget repair bill were public sector unions. And, John Chisholm’s wife, Colleen Chisholm, was not only a member of the teacher’s union, but was a shop steward at St. Francis.

These motives were revealed last week, when a former employee of Chisholm’s revealed:

…the district attorney’s wife was a teachers union shop steward [who] had taken part in demonstrations against the Republican governor’s proposal to curb public employee unions and was repeatedly moved to tears by governor’s legislative crusade.

The source was initially kept anonymous because he “was a former prosecutor in Chisholm’s office who feared his reputation and his law practice would suffer if he were unmasked.” However, his anonymity was short lived, as Daniel Bice of the Journal Sentinel quickly outed him:

No Quarter has confirmed that the source making the allegations is a figure well-known in Milwaukee’s legal community — but not for his prosecutorial record.

Michael W. Lutz, 44, is a former Milwaukee cop involved in several high-profile incidents during his 17 years on the force who receives taxpayer-funded duty disability pay for post-traumatic stress disorder. He got his law license less than four years ago and is now a criminal defense attorney.

But here is the shocker: Lutz issued a death threat, apparently during a drunken rage, against the prosecutor and his family last year — a charge not in dispute, though it was never prosecuted.

This harsh description of Lutz contrasts sharply with the glowing praise that Chisholm gave Lutz personally in a letter of recommendation:

Your service to the citizens of Milwaukee County as a Public Service Special Prosecutor has been exemplary. Your dedication and hard work in the areas of Community Prosecution, M-Corp, the Evidence Based Decision Making Initiative and others have proven to be invaluable to my office and to my staff.

I am extremely grateful for the service you provided to Deputy District Attorney Jeff Altenburg, Community Prosecution Team Captain Jacob Corr, and the rest of my staff over the tenure of your appointment. Should you have interest in rejoining this office in the future, your application will be strongly considered. Thank you again for your service to this office and best of luck in your future endeavors.

Non Novus Sub Solum

None of this is new. Using the legal system to silence critics and punish foes is a well established tactic on both sides of the fence. I still remember watching Ken Starr hound Clinton over Whitewater, only to continually morph his focus every time he came up short. The final product, the Starr Report, was like a bad attempt at soft core porn. But the Republicans didn’t care – they hated Clinton… they were going to get him any way they could.

Fast forward 20 years and instead of federal prosecutors hijacking national politics, you have city level DA’s like John Chisholm hijacking state wide politics. The legal process was not meant to subvert the will of the people, and the courts were not meant to silence political speech, especially to advance a personal agenda.

The political process is dysfunctional as it is. The last thing we need is for the legal process to hold it hostage.

 

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