Judge’s ruling once again halts Walker probe
MADISON — A federal judge on Thursday halted for the second time in as many days an investigation into Gov. Scott Walker’s 2012 recall campaign and conservative groups that supported him.
U.S. District Judge Rudolph Randa issued an order in a separate appeal that allows for his previous order halting the probe to be effective.
The probe has been a distraction for Walker as he runs for re-election this year and considers a possible 2016 presidential bid. The Wisconsin Club for Growth, a conservative group with close ties to Walker, filed the civil lawsuit against prosecutors to stop the investigation that began after Walker won a recall election in 2012.
A federal appeals court on Wednesday had said Randa’s original order Tuesday stopping the investigation was in error because he had yet to rule on whether a separate appeal by prosecutors was frivolous.
Randa said Thursday that the appeal, which was to his ruling that prosecutors are not immune from being sued by Wisconsin Club for Growth, was indeed frivolous. That reinstates his preliminary injunction halting the probe into Walker’s campaign, the Club for Growth and other Republican-backing groups.
“The Court is absolutely convinced that the defendants’ attempt to appeal this issue is a frivolous effort to deprive the Court of its jurisdiction to enter an injunction,” Randa wrote in the seven-page order once again granting a preliminary injunction.
The attorneys for prosecutors did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
David Rivkin Jr., an attorney for Wisconsin Club for Growth, praised the decision which he said corrected a “technical oversight.”
“We are confident that this injunction will remain in place because, as Judge Randa found, the John Doe probe is an abuse of government power to target private citizens for exercising their free speech rights,” Rivkin said.
The order is the latest in a flurry of court filings that began Tuesday night with Randa’s order granting the Wisconsin Club for Growth’s request that investigation stop on the grounds it was an infringement on their free-speech rights. The investigation centers on whether outside groups were illegally coordinating with various recall campaigns, including Walker’s.
That order was stayed less than 24 hours later by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, which said it was in error because Randa had yet to rule on the other appeal. It also ordered that evidence collected in the investigation be saved, and not returned or destroyed, as Randa had said.
Prosecutors now can seek another stay of Randa’s order while their underlying appeal is pending.
The lawsuit centers around the second of two secret, or John Doe, investigations Walker has been involved with.
The first lasted three years and ended in 2013 with six convictions, including three of his former aides. Walker was interviewed but never charged. The second, which is ongoing, began shortly after Walker won a recall election in 2012.
The investigation focused on alleged illegal coordination between and among Walker’s recall committee and “all or nearly all right-of-center groups and individuals in Wisconsin who have engaged in issue advocacy from 2010 to the present,” Randa said in his Tuesday ruling.
Under Wisconsin law, prosecutors can launch John Doe investigations that are overseen by judges and conducted largely in secret. Information has leaked out about the probe through redacted court filings and leaks made by Eric O’Keefe, the director of Wisconsin Club for Growth, one of the conservative groups being targeted.
Three other lawsuits are pending in state court connected to the investigation.