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Did Governor Scott Walker Miss Being Legal Target With Judge’s Ruling On Probe?

January 11, 2014

The news late Friday was most interesting, and certainly raises more questions than it answers.

Prosecutors in the John Doe investigation into spending and fundraising during the raucous Wisconsin recall elections were dealt a major procedural blow Friday, according to sources.

The five-county investigation remains open, but subpoenas issued in the probe to conservative political groups supporting Gov. Scott Walker were quashed, sources familiar with the development said. The ruling — which is sealed — raises First Amendment concerns about the subpoenas.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has not turned up any Democratic candidates or liberal interest groups involved in the recall elections that have been contacted by John Doe prosecutors.

“The John Doe is still open,” said one individual familiar with the case.

But other sources said Friday’s ruling seriously undercuts the well-publicized probe, launched in summer 2012. Those familiar with the case said the decision was handed down by retired Appeals Judge Gregory A. Peterson,the presiding judge in the investigation who took over the case in November.

Peterson said late Friday that he could not comment on any aspect of the case because the proceedings are still covered by a secrecy order. John Doe investigations allow prosecutors to work in secret while compelling witnesses to turn over documents and give testimony.

The Wall Street Journal’s opinion page reported Friday night that it had obtained a copy of Peterson’s ruling. The paper said the judge wrote that the quashed subpoenas “do not show probable cause that the moving parties committed any violations of the campaign finance laws.”

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