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Legal wrangling continues over Gov. Walker probe

  • Article by: SCOTT BAUER
  • Associated Press
  • May 8, 2014 - 2:20 PM

MADISON, Wis. — A convoluted legal fight over an investigation that has dogged Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker for years shows no signs of ending soon, despite a pair of legal wins this week for the first-term Republican who is weighing a presidential run.

The secret investigation, known as a John Doe, focused on alleged illegal coordination between conservative groups, Walker's campaign and others during recall elections in 2011 and 2012. Three other lawsuits are pending in state court connected to the investigation.

Walker, who is running for re-election as he considers whether to seek the GOP nomination for president in 2016, scored a victory Thursday when a federal judge halted the investigation for the second time in as many days. Prosecutors were expected to ask for a stay while their appeal of U.S. District Judge Rudolph Randa's order halting the probe is pending.

Deadlines for attorneys to file briefs in that case stretch through the end of July, and a final decision may not come until after the November election.

The investigation has been a distraction for Walker as he runs for re-election against Democrat Mary Burke, a former state commerce secretary and Trek Bicycle Corp. executive. The Wisconsin Club for Growth, a conservative group with close ties to Walker, filed the civil lawsuit against prosecutors to stop the investigation that began after Walker won a recall election in 2012.

A federal appeals court on Wednesday said Randa's original order Tuesday stopping the investigation was in error because he had yet to rule on whether a separate appeal by prosecutors was frivolous.

Randa said Thursday that the appeal, which was to his ruling that prosecutors are not immune from being sued by Wisconsin Club for Growth, was indeed frivolous. That reinstates his preliminary injunction halting the probe into Walker's campaign, the Club for Growth and other Republican-backing groups.

"The Court is absolutely convinced that the defendants' attempt to appeal this issue is a frivolous effort to deprive the Court of its jurisdiction to enter an injunction," Randa wrote in the seven-page order once again granting a preliminary injunction.

Randall Crocker, attorney for special prosecutor Francis Schmitz, said he disagreed with Randa's latest ruling but "the issue will ultimately be determined by a higher court."

David Rivkin Jr., an attorney for Wisconsin Club for Growth, praised the decision which he said corrected a "technical oversight."

"We are confident that this injunction will remain in place because, as Judge Randa found, the John Doe probe is an abuse of government power to target private citizens for exercising their free speech rights," Rivkin said.

Walker said Wednesday, after the first ruling halting the investigation, that he was trying not to be distracted.

"I don't think there's any elected official in America who's been more scrutinized than I have," Walker said. "This is just another stage in that. But we tried not to lose sight of our larger charge."

© 2014 Star Tribune