Milwaukee County investigators fired back Friday at Attorney General Brad Schimel in a court filing, calling his public statements about their actions in a halted John Doe probe into Gov. Scott Walker’s recall campaign “defamatory” and “unacceptable.”
Last month, Schimel asked a federal judge in a related lawsuit not to block the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s order that the investigators turn over evidence collected in the John Doe investigation, which the state court halted in July.
In a statement issued the same day as his filing, Schimel said the state high court determined investigators “are requesting the federal court contradict the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s order requiring that the evidence unlawfully seized by the John Doe investigators be kept under seal.”
Schimel also told conservative talk radio hosts that day that the investigators were illegally holding the evidence and that they “stole” it, according to a transcript of the interview.
“The Attorney General’s actions are unacceptable,” the investigators’ lawyer Samuel Leib wrote in a court response filed Friday. “The Investigator Defendants are lifelong civil servants, and they do not deserve to be the target of the Attorney General’s defamatory attacks. It is shameful that law enforcement officers have to fear that their own attorney general will trample on their reputations in the media just to score political points.”
The filing noted the investigators are not seeking to release sealed documents, but instead are asking to retain possession of them under seal as they defend themselves in the lawsuit. It also noted the evidence was seized legally under the authority of a judge.
“The Investigator Defendants should not be the target of the Attorney General’s ridicule just because the legal theory on which John Doe II was based was subsequently, and controversially, invalidated,” Leib wrote, referring to the Wisconsin Supreme Court decision.
Schimel spokeswoman Anne Schwartz declined to comment on the filing.
The lawsuit filed by former Walker aide Cindy Archer alleges Milwaukee County investigators violated her civil rights when they served search warrants at her Madison home in September 2011 as part of an earlier John Doe investigation, which yielded six convictions of former Walker aides and associates.
U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman has set a March 3 hearing before he rules on whether to allow the investigators to hold on to the evidence.
Schimel’s filing marked the first time his office has taken sides in court in either John Doe I or II, which was investigating whether coordination between Walker’s campaign and outside groups violated state campaign finance laws. Schimel’s predecessor, also a Republican, declined to lead the investigation, citing a potential conflict of interest for both himself as a Republican and his office based on its relationship with the governor.
District attorneys from Milwaukee, Dane and Iowa counties may appeal the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision on John Doe II to the U.S. Supreme Court. Earlier this week Justice Elana Kagan granted a motion to extend the filing deadline from March 1 to April 29.
Schimel has made clear that he intends to intervene if the U.S. Supreme Court takes the case.
“In this case, the targets of this John Doe investigation will get the property back fastest by allowing the intervenors to file their appeal with the (Supreme Court of the United States),” Schimel said in an email to a conservative blog shared by his office with the Wisconsin State Journal. “While this may seem counterintuitive, the likelihood of the Supreme Court granting review is extraordinarily unlikely and, in the event that the Supreme Court agrees to hear the case, Wisconsin DOJ would seek to intervene to end the case at that time.”