By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A northwestern Wisconsin judge properly dismissed a lawsuit alleging a Milwaukee prosecutor abused his power during a secret probe into Gov. Scott Walker’s former aides, a state appeals court ruled Tuesday.
Milwaukee County Assistant District Attorney Bruce Landgraf spearheaded a so-called John Doe investigation into wrongdoing by people who worked for the governor when he was Milwaukee County executive. The probe, the state equivalent of a federal grand jury investigation where information is tightly controlled, began in 2010 and wrapped up last year. Six people were ultimately charged on counts that included campaigning on county time and theft. Walker was not charged.
According to court documents, Landgraf issued a subpoena in September 2010 demanding Christopher Brekken, owner of a Rice Lake Harley-Davidson store, turn over credit card purchase records related to a customer whose name had been redacted. Brekken told Landgraf he didn’t have any such records and couldn’t obtain them.
Landgraf issued a warrant for Brekken’s arrest and an order requiring him to travel to Milwaukee and provide the information there.
Brekken spent a day in jail, his attorney, Michael Schwartz said. According to court documents he made the 600-mile round trip to Milwaukee and testified under oath he didn’t have any information relevant to the subpoena.
He filed suit against Landgraf in 2012, accusing Landgraf of false imprisonment and abusing his power. Barron County Judge Timothy Doyle ultimately dismissed the lawsuit in March 2013, saying Brekken failed to first file a damages claim with the state.
Brekken argued on appeal that he properly filed a claim with Milwaukee County, contending Landgraf was a state employee on loan to the county.
He also noted that Doyle remarked during the dismissal hearing that Landgraf’s actions appeared to be politically motivated. Walker is a Republican and Landgraf’s boss, Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, is a Democrat.
State attorneys representing Landgraf countered that assistant prosecutors are state workers, which meant Brekken had to file a claim with the state. Statements about Landgraf’s motivations were “irrelevant subjective opinions,” they added.
The 3rd District Court of Appeals upheld Doyle, noting in a terse 2 ½-page ruling that Brekken offered no counter-argument to Landgraf’s assertions that assistant prosecutors are state workers.
In an email to The Associated Press Schwartz accused Landgraf of hiding behind a technicality rather than answer for his “Gestapo-like conduct.” He said he’s looking into filing a grievance with the state Office of Lawyer regulation about Landgraf’s conduct.
A spokeswoman for the state Department of Justice, which handled Landgraf’s defense, declined to comment.
The Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office is currently running a second John Doe probe into possible illegal coordination between conservative groups and recent recall campaigns.