Three unnamed petitioners are asking that a judge be ordered to temporarily halt a secret investigation into campaign activity by Gov. Scott Walker’s recall campaign and more than two dozen conservative political groups.
Madison attorney Dean Strang and Milwaukee attorney Matthew O’Neill late last week filed five petitions for supervisory writ in the 4th District Court of Appeals in Madison requesting the appeals judges to weigh in on an unspecified action or actions taken by retired Judge Gregory A. Peterson and to consider sending the requests up to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
“I cannot properly comment on anything for now,” Strang said in an email.
All five of the filings are sealed, and a panel of appeals judges has not yet been formed to hear the matters, Diane Fremgen, clerk of the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court, said Tuesday.
Peterson is a former appeals court judge from Eau Claire who retired in 2012. Last week, he took over for retired Judge Barbara Kluka, who had been overseeing the investigation but stepped down for undisclosed reasons. The probe was launched in 2012 but publicly revealed just a few weeks ago.
Strang, a criminal defense and appeals attorney, and O’Neill, whose specialties include campaign finance and election law, represent one of the unnamed petitioners. Petitioner No. 2 is represented by two law firms — one in Washington, D.C., and the other in Kansas City, Mo. — that specialize in complex litigation and white collar crime. Petitioner No. 3 also is represented by the D.C. firm.
Peterson confirmed Tuesday that he is overseeing the probe but declined further comment. The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, quoting a target of the investigation and contents of two subpoenas, reported last week that the probe is looking into recall-related activities in 2011 and 2012 by Walker’s campaign, 29 Republican and conservative political organizations and unspecified legislative leaders.
The petitions for supervisory writ also name Rock County Circuit Judge James P. Daley as a respondent in the action. Daley declined comment Tuesday, saying he was “uncomfortable” discussing any aspect of the John Doe inquiry. The petitions also name attorney Francis Schmitz, who is prosecuting the case, as a respondent.
Daley is the chief judge of the four-county Fifth Judicial Administrative District in Wisconsin, supervising courts in Dane, Rock, Green and Lafayette counties. However, he declined to say whether the petitions for supervisory writ were related to his function as the chief judge.
The state Department of Justice has been notified of the action but has not yet received a request to represent the two judges, DOJ spokeswoman Dana Brueck said.
The investigation is a multi-county probe being run out of the Milwaukee County Circuit Court. The five petitions filed Thursday name Columbia County as the jurisdiction.
Four attorneys are listed as representing the second unnamed petitioner. Two — Edward H. Meyers and Philip O’Beirne — are from Stein Mitchell Muse and Cippollone in Washington, D.C. Two attorneys — Todd P. Graves and Edward D. Greim — are from Graves Garrett LLC in Kansas City, Mo.
The third unnamed petitioner is represented by Michael Bresnick of the Stein Mitchell firm.
According to the law firm’s website, Bresnick recently joined Stein Mitchell after serving as head of President Barack Obama’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force.
The governor has declined to discuss the investigation — the second such probe to be launched into campaign-related activities involving Walker. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, also has declined comment. Other top legislative leaders have said they were unaware of the John Doe probe.
According to electronic court records, Strang also is asking that the petitions, affidavits and exhibits filed as part of the requests be sealed. However, Strang asked the appeals court to make public other records, including the memorandums he filed in support of the supervisory writs and the motions to stay filed on behalf of three unnamed petitioners.
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