By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — One of Gov. Scott Walker’s former aides has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to toss out her conviction for campaigning on government time, arguing investigators exceeded their constitutional authority when they searched her email.
Kelly Rindfleisch’s attorneys argued in a petition filed with the high court on Friday that the case raises significant questions about how the Fourth Amendment’s restriction on general searches applies to digital evidence seized from witnesses.
“Not just in Wisocnsin, but in many other state and federal courts that find themselves nearing the bottom of a decades-long slippery slope, the state may now seize a citizen’s entire email account, search it in secret, and retain all of the seized email for future perusal,” the petition said.
The state Department of Justice is defending Rindfleisch’s conviction. DOJ spokeswoman Anne Schwartz said Monday that the agency is reviewing the petition.
The Supreme Court is under no obligation to take the case.
Rindfleisch was one of six people convicted in a so-called John Doe probe into Walker’s former aides and associates while he was the Milwaukee County executive. The probe ran from May 2010, six months before Walker — a likely presidential candidate — was elected governor, to February 2010.
Prosecutors accused Rindfleisch of working on Walker’s gubernatorial campaign and Republican Brett Davis’ lieutenant governor campaign out of her county office. She ultimately pleaded guilty in 2012 to one felony count of misconduct in office and was sentenced to six months in jail and three years on probation.
Her attorneys argued in the petition that investigators stated in search warrants seeking permission to seize Rindfleisch’s emails that they were looking for evidence that Tim Russell, then Walker’s chief of staff, had broken the law. Russell was ultimately sentenced to two years in prison for stealing more than $20,000 from a nonprofit group Walker had assigned him to lead.
A state appellate court rejected similar arguments from Rindfleisch’s defense team in November, ruling 2-1 that the warrants were constitutional. The state Supreme Court chose not to review her case in March. Online court records indicate a Milwaukee judge ordered her to begin serving her jail sentence on April 1.
The probe into Walker’s county associates led to a second John Doe investigation into whether Walker’s 2012 recall campaign illegally coordinated with conservative groups.
That investigation is on hold, however, after one of the groups, Wisconsin Club for Growth, and its director, Eric O’Keefe, asked the state Supreme Court to rule on the probe’s validity. The group and O’Keefe contend the investigation is a violation of their First Amendment rights and an attempt to criminalize political speech. The court is expected to rule this summer.
A John Doe investigation is Wisconsin’s version of a grand jury probe where information is tightly controlled and investigators go about their work in secret.