Media coalition wants John Doe documents unsealed

  • Associated Press
  • August 20, 2014 - 8:45 PM

MADISON, Wis. — A coalition of media and open government groups pressed a federal appeals court Wednesday to unseal nearly three dozen documents linked to a secret probe into Gov. Scott Walker's campaign.

The coalition filed a brief with the court arguing there's no compelling reason to keep them sealed in such a highly publicized case that "goes to the heart of the public's right to observe the conduct of its prosecutors and the decisions of its courts."

Prosecutors have been looking into whether Walker's 2012 recall campaign illegally coordinated with conservative groups on advertising and fundraising. They've been using a so-called John Doe procedure, a proceeding similar to a federal grand jury where information is tightly controlled.

A federal judge in Milwaukee halted the probe in May after one of the groups, Wisconsin Club for Growth, argued the investigation violates its free speech rights.

The prosecutors have asked the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to allow them to continue the investigation. The coalition has filed a parallel request with the appellate court asking that it unseal hundreds of pages of documents tied to the probe.

The court unsealed dozens of pages of documents revealing the nature of the probe in June and had planned to release 34 more on Tuesday as part of its standard operating procedures. The court held off, though, after Wisconsin Club for Growth, two unnamed parties who said they're also targets in the investigation and the prosecutors filed motions seeking to keep all or parts of the documents secret.

The Wisconsin Club for Growth and the unnamed parties argue the documents include affidavits packed with personal information that prosecutors used to justify searches and subpoenas and releasing them would reveal internal strategies and damage reputations. They maintain, too, that releasing the documents would be premature since the court hasn't ruled on the coalition's appeal. The prosecutors, meanwhile, contend releasing information now would compromise the investigation if it begins again.

The coalition countered in its filing that the investigation has essentially become public and the people's interest in disclosure outweighs any interest in continued secrecy.

It's unclear when the court may make a decision.

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