A day after Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill to abolish Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board, a group that filed suit against the board for its role investigating Walker’s 2012 recall campaign announced the suit has been settled.
But even as they reached accord on the settlement, the two sides disagreed on whether it will have an impact on the board or the commissions that assume its duties June 30.
Wisconsin Club for Growth, a key target in the since-halted Walker probe, said the settlement will bar the GAB — which assisted prosecutors in conducting the probe — and its successors from playing a similar role in future investigations.
The GAB framed the settlement differently, saying it “vindicates the board’s involvement in the investigation” into Walker.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit, Wisconsin Club for Growth and one of its directors, Eric O’Keefe, announced the settlement Thursday. It bars the accountability board from “assisting future criminal prosecutions in violation of its statutory authority,” according to a statement from the plaintiff’s attorney, Edward Greim.
Their lawsuit charged the GAB with overstepping legal bounds in the so-called John Doe II investigation, which centered on Walker’s campaign coordinating with outside groups, including Wisconsin Club for Growth. The state Supreme Court halted the probe in July, finding it had no basis in law.
The settlement announcement comes a day after Walker signed into law a measure to abolish the GAB. Still, Wisconsin Club for Growth and O’Keefe contend the settlement will affect the two new commissions that, under that measure, will succeed the GAB, according to Greim.
“We think this will establish a precedent that will keep future incarnations of the GAB from doing what the GAB did,” Greim said.
The GAB confirmed the settlement in a statement, saying it will save taxpayer dollars. As part of the settlement, the board pledged to continue adhering to state law in any future investigations, which “the board has done and intended to do without the litigation,” according to the statement by GAB Director Kevin Kennedy.
“Were this agreement in place prior to the board’s involvement in the John Doe II investigation, it would not have changed any of the board or staff’s actions,” Kennedy said.
In a sign of more to come, Greim said the settlement will make public internal GAB documents that will show the board’s “true role in the John Doe investigation.” The documents are expected to become public later this month or in early January, he said.
“The public has only seen the tip of the iceberg, and we look forward to sharing our findings over the coming weeks,” Greim said.
A spokesman for the board, Reid Magney, said it produced about 40,000 pages of documents as part of the discovery process in the suit.
In a previous court filing last month, the GAB asserted that the lawsuit was moot because it deals with a state John Doe law that was changed after the suit was filed. Walker signed a law in October that keeps John Doe investigations from being used to review allegations of political corruption and misconduct of public officials.
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