Special Counsel Hired by the State in Lawsuits Alleging Wrongdoing, Civil Rights Violations by GAB and John Doe Prosecutors
December 29, 2014[Madison, Wisc…] Taxpayers have spent nearly $1 million defending public officials in lawsuits alleging the most recent John Doe investigation has violated the civil rights of many conservative organizations around the state.
Documents obtained by the MacIver Institute show taxpayers shelled out $965,191.70 from July 1, 2013 to November 30, 2014 to six different law firms, which are defending the Government Accountability Board (GAB), Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, and other John Doe investigators. The largest sum of money – $589,523.02 – went to three law firms representing the GAB or its special prosecutors in the John Doe probe.
Each contract with each firm clearly lays out the “maximum amount payable to the Attorney under this Contract, including expert/subcontracting fees and expenses.” The maximums have been amended in four of the six contracts, however. When originally signed, the total amount authorized for payment from the taxpayers was $234,500. As of the end of November, that total has increased to $1,159,500. That means the amount taxpayers already spent is likely to increase, and it is possible the maximums could be amended again – further increasing the price to taxpayers.
The state was required to hire special counsel in each case since the Attorney General could not represent the public officials because, “the Department of Justice was representing another party,” according to documents from the governor’s office.
According to Wisconsin Reporter – which was the first to break multiple stories relating to the seemingly partisan John Doe probe – a lawsuit was filed by Eric O’Keefe of the Wisconsin Club for Growth in February.
“In February, O’Keefe and the conservative nonprofit group filed a lawsuit against Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, two of his assistant DAs, John Doe special prosecutor Francis Schmitz and a GAB-contracted investigator alleging the government agents trampled on the First Amendment rights of the conservatives in conducting the secret probe.
“A U.S. District Court judge in May ordered the investigation shut down and denied the prosecutors’ motions to dismiss the civil rights suit, arguing, as a presiding John Doe judge previously had, that the defendants had not shown any evidence a crime had been committed.
“Chisholm’s office launched what turned into a multi-county probe into dozens of conservative organizations two years ago, digging for what the prosecutors believed to be possible illegal coordination between the groups and Walker’s campaign during Wisconsin’s partisan recall elections of 2011 and ’12.”
Along with the federal court case, O’Keefe also filed a lawsuit in state court against the GAB alleging they had illegally supported the DA’s in the John Doe case.
The cost to taxpayers for the GAB to defend itself in the state-filed lawsuit through July 31, 2014 was $24,577.41 – first reported by Wisconsin Reporter. That number has increased to $44,112.87 through the end of November, according to documents obtained by MacIver.
While the GAB is supposed to be a non-partisan organization that oversees Wisconsin’s elections, it may have gone far past its statutory authority to assist in the prosecution of conservative groups. According to Wisconsin Reporter, the GAB even “considered using the state’s John Doe law to investigate key state conservatives and even national figures, including Fox News’ Sean Hannity and WTMJ Milwaukee host Charlie Sykes.”
This news comes shortly after an audit by the Legislative Audit Bureau that found the GAB was not fully performing its statutory duties. GAB board member Judge Elsa Lamelas said at a recent meeting that statutorily required responsibilities seem to be handled “ad hoc” rather than a complete and orderly process.
As the GAB and other public officials involved in the John Doe investigation continue to defend themselves in these court cases, it is likely that the costs to taxpayers will increase in the coming months.
MacIver will continue to investigate the costs to taxpayers for defending possibly illegal acts by the GAB and other John Doe prosecutors. To find out more information about the possibly partisan probe and GAB’s involvement, you can read the full series of articles from Wisconsin Reporter by clicking here.