Thursday, July 16, 2015

Wisconsin Decides John Doe Investigation Cases

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has issued its opinion in several consolidated cases dealing with the so-called John Doe investigation.

From Justice Gableman's majority opinion

To be clear, this conclusion ends the John Doe investigation because the special prosecutor's legal theory is unsupported in either reason or law.  Consequently, the investigation is closed.  Consistent with our decision and the order entered by Reserve Judge Peterson, we order that the special prosecutor and the district attorneys involved in this investigation must cease all activities related to the investigation, return all property seized in the investigation from any individual or organization, and permanently destroy all copies of information and other materials obtained through the investigation.  All Unnamed Movants are relieved of any duty to cooperate further with the investigation...

We hold that the special prosecutor has failed to prove that Reserve Judge Peterson violated a plain legal duty when he quashed the subpoenas and search warrants and ordered the return of all property seized by the special prosecutor.  In quashing the subpoenas and search warrants, Reserve Judge Peterson exercised his discretion under the John Doe statute, Wis. Stat. § 968.26, to determine the extent of the investigation.  Because the purpose of a supervisory writ does not include review of a judge's discretionary acts, Kalal, 271 Wis. 2d 633, ¶24, the supervisory writ sought by the special prosecutor is denied, and Reserve Judge Peterson's order is affirmed...

in Three Unnamed Petitioners, we hold that the Unnamed Movants have failed to prove that either Reserve Judge Kluka or Reserve Judge Peterson violated a plain legal duty by: (1) accepting an appointment as a reserve judge; (2) convening a multi-county John Doe proceeding; or (3) appointing a special prosecutor.  Although the circumstances surrounding the formation of the John Doe investigation raise serious concerns, and the appointment of the special prosecutor may well have been improper, such concerns do not satisfy the stringent standards of a supervisory writ.  Put another way, if we were to grant the supervisory writ in this case, we would risk "transform[ing] the writ into an all-purpose alternative to the appellate review process," which we cannot do.  Id.  Accordingly, we deny the supervisory writ and affirm the decision of the court of appeals.

There are concurring opinions. This from Justice Zeigler

During pre-dawn darkness in October 2013, several armed law enforcement officers wearing flak jackets, carrying battering rams, and using bright floodlights executed secret John Doe search warrants in the homes of Wisconsin residents.  What was the prosecution searching for?  The prosecution was in search of documents and electronic evidence, including personal computers and cell phones, to support alleged violations of Wisconsin's campaign finance law.  The warrants sought evidence that had been around for more than four years.  The warrants were executed shortly before morning, days after a judge signed them, while it was still dark outside.  Law enforcement certainly has, and should have, a great deal of discretion when it comes to how and when a warrant will be executed, but ultimately courts may review the reasonableness of that execution...

I join the majority opinion in all three cases.  I write separately to explain that even if the search warrants were lawfully issued, the execution of them could be subject to the reasonableness analysis of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and the Wisconsin Constitution's counterpart.  A totality of the circumstances analysis could include consideration of, among other things, the timing of the issuance and execution of the warrants, the manner in which the warrants were executed, whether public or officer safety concerns justified the manner of execution, and what type of evidence was being sought.

Justice Abrahamson concurred and dissented

The majority opinion and Justice Prosser's concurrence decide that the secrecy order does not bind the justices of this court. The secrecy order, in their view, binds only the parties and the public.

Because the majority of this court disregards its own secrecy order, Justice Prosser opines at length, without the benefit of briefs or facts, about allegedly overbroad search warrants and subpoenas.  Moreover, he  waxes eloquent about privacy and the limits that should be placed on search warrants seeking electronic material.  But he has previously waxed eloquent about privacy rights and has nevertheless upheld searches of electronic material that he recognized raise substantial privacy concerns.

Likewise, Justice Ziegler opines at length about the allegedly unconstitutional manner in which the search warrants were executed.  She does so without the benefit of briefs or facts.

Both justices opine about issues not previously raised by the parties or the court without giving the parties an opportunity to brief or argue the facts or law relevant to those issues...

I have repeatedly dissented to the excessive sealing and redactions this court has imposed in the John Doe trilogy and I have repeatedly dissented to this court's position that the John Doe secrecy order automatically binds this court, but I nevertheless conclude that the secrecy orders issued by this court (over my dissent) are binding on this court.  As explained above, it is settled law that a "magistrate" who issues a secrecy order is bound by that secrecy order.  The majority opinion and Justice Prosser's concurrence improperly ignore this principle...

n closing, I note that even if this court determined that the John Doe proceedings were procedurally defective and that a supervisory writ is warranted, only those Unnamed Movants who raised the objection before the John Doe judge may be entitled to any relief.  If not raised, these objections were waived (forfeited).  See Village of Trempealeau v. Mikrut, 2004 WI 79, ¶27, 273 Wis. 2d 76, 681 N.W.2d 190 (stating that "the common-law waiver [forfeiture] rule applies to challenges to the circuit court's competency" and explaining that a competency challenge is waived as a matter of right if raised for the first time on appeal); In re Commitment of Bollig, 222 Wis. 2d 558, 564, 587 N.W.2d 908 (Ct. App. 1998) (providing that a defect in the appointment of a special prosecutor is waived (forfeited) if raised for the first time on appeal).

Justice Crooks also concurred and dissented.

It is also imperative to note that the majority conveniently overlooks the special prosecutor's secondary argument of criminal activity in its effort to end this John Doe investigation.  Specifically, the special prosecutor seeks to investigate whether particular express advocacy groups coordinated their spending with candidates or candidate committees in violation of their sworn statement of independence under Wis. Stat. § 11.06(7).  Despite the fact that the special prosecutor utilizes a significant portion of his brief to present evidence of such illegal coordination, the majority determines, without explanation, that the John Doe investigation is over.

Has the majority abused its power in reaching this conclusion?  The majority's rush to terminate this investigation is reminiscent of the action taken by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin in O'Keefe v. Schmitz, 19 F. Supp. 3d at 875, an action that was both criticized and reversed by the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in O'Keefe, 769 F.3d at 942.  Although the focus of my writing lies elsewhere, the majority's error in this regard cannot be overlooked.

For these reasons, I respectfully dissent in State ex. rel. Two Unnamed Petitioners v. Peterson (Two Unnamed Petitioners). 

However, because I agree that the special prosecutor and certain Unnamed Movants have failed to meet their heavy burden of establishing that the John Doe judge violated a plain legal duty in either initiating these proceedings or quashing various subpoenas and search warrants related to the investigation, I respectfully concur with the majority in State ex. rel. Schmitz v. Peterson (Schmitz v. Peterson) and State ex. rel. Three Unnamed Petitioners v. Peterson (Three Unnamed Petitioners).  In concurring in Schmitz v. Peterson, it is significant for me that when an appellate court decides to issue a supervisory writ, it is a rare, discretionary decision.  Madison Metro. Sch. Dist., 336 Wis. 2d 95, ¶¶33-34.  Here, the John Doe judge also made a discretionary decision in deciding a complex legal issue.  Deference should be given where there is such discretion.

 

Justice Bradley did not participate.

Obviously, this complex series of opinions will be the subject of intensive commentary. We have not attempted to carefully evaluate the opinions but post them so that interested persons can begin that process. (Mike Frisch)

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