MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A federal appellate panel ruled Monday that a judge had the authority to issue a preliminary order halting a secret investigation into Republican Gov. Scott Walker and other conservative groups.
The investigation, known as a John Doe, focused on allegations of illegal coordination between conservative groups, Walker’s campaign and others during recall elections in 2011 and 2012.
U.S. District Judge Rudolph Randa ruled in May in a lawsuit brought by conservative group Club for Growth that the probe was a breach of free-speech rights and issued a preliminary order stopping the investigation.
The prosecutors leading the probe, including Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, argued to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals that Randa doesn’t have the authority to issue such an order.
A three-judge panel on the appellate court ruled that the prosecutors’ challenge to Randa’s authority was frivolous and that the judge does indeed have the authority to issue the order. The judges said, however, that the prosecutors’ other appeal filings appear to be valid, but the panel didn’t issue any rulings on those points. Those filings are still pending, and the investigation remains on hold.
The panel said, too, that it needs more information to decide whether the prosecutors’ claims that they’re immune from damages for launching the investigation are frivolous. The panel promised to establish a new briefing schedule on the issues.