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The Wisconsin Court of Appeals Friday turned down a request by three unnamed petitioners to halt the secret investigation into recall-related activities by Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign and more than two dozen political groups.

In an order released late Friday afternoon, the 4th District Court of Appeals ordered that the “motion to stay all further proceedings in the underlying John Doe investigations is denied at this time.”

“Proceedings may continue in any or all of these matters unless and until this court orders otherwise,” the three-judge panel ordered.

The court also agreed to consolidate all five petitions for supervisory writ challenging the investigation, which began in Milwaukee County and has spread to four other counties: Dane, Iowa, Dodge and Columbia.

And it denied, for now, a request to send the matter to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

The order provided the first public confirmation that the petitioners are challenging the authority of both Reserve Judge Gregory Peterson and John Doe prosecutor Francis Schmitz, a former federal prosecutor now in private practice, to conduct the secret probe.

According to the order, the petitioners are challenging:

• The legal authority to appoint a reserve judge, in this case, Peterson, to oversee a John Doe investigation;

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• The legal basis for assigning a single reserve judge to handle John Doe investigations in multiple jurisdictions;

• The legal basis for the appointment of a special prosecutor, in this case Schmitz, to act in multiple jurisdictions;

• The authority to appoint a special prosecutor in any of the five John Doe investigations;

• The scope of the secrecy orders; and

• Whether the judge can use a post office box for filing of certain documents.

The three judges — Brian Blanchard, Joanne Kloppenburg and Paul Lundsten — rejected the final two arguments, saying they “plainly lack merit” but ordered the parties to submit additional arguments on the remaining claims.

In denying the stay requested by the petitioners, the judges said “each of the petitioner’s four remaining claims for relief appears to rely upon one or more propositions that lack direct factual support in the materials provided in the writ petition.”

Normally such a petition would be rejected, the judges said. “We recognize, however, that the special nature of a John Doe investigation limits the petitioners’ ability to gather the necessary documents without court intervention,” they wrote. The court also said it would consider the requests by the petitioners to make public some of the documents filed in the appeals court.

Capital W: Plug in to Wisconsin politics

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