The Wisconsin Supreme Court has decided not to reconsider its shutdown of a secret inquiry into Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign finances and clarified its early decision, removing the investigation’s special prosecutor.
The Government Accountability Board and Milwaukee County prosecutors launched the investigation in 2012 to find out whether Walker’s campaign illegally coordinated with outside conservative groups. No charges were filed in the investigation.
The court ended the probe in July, ruling that state law allowed the coordination, which included campaign advertisements that advocate or oppose a candidate’s policies as opposed to ads containing calls for a candidate’s election or defeat. The court also ordered prosecutors to return all the evidence they had collected during the investigation and destroy any copies.
Francis Schmitz was the special prosecutor who led the led the investigation, and he asked the court in August to reconsider its decision.
The high court on Wednesday denied his request, but also clarified some parts of its August decision. Justices Rebecca Bradley and Ann Walsh Bradley did not participate, and Justice Shirley Abrahamson concurred in part and dissented in part.
One of the point the court clarified Wednesday involved Schmitz’s role as special prosecutor.
The original decision found Schmitz’s appointment as special prosecutor was invalid, but did not indicate what that meant. The court removed Schmitz as special prosecutor effective as of Wednesday’s per curiam decision.
The court noted that Schmitz’s removal does not nullify any of his actions as special prosecutor before the recent decision was issued.
Doing so, the court said in Wednesday’s decision, would, without justification, void actions on which courts, law enforcement and others have relied on. It would also encourage “great mischief,” according to the court, because defendants under criminal prosecution by a special prosecutor could wait until they are convicted and obtain a ruling that the conviction was invalid because the special prosecutor’s actions in filing the complaint and trying the case were legal nullities although they may otherwise had been valid.
And while the court removed Schmitz from his post as special prosecutor, it also ordered him and his team to ensure that all the evidence collected from the investigation be returned and any copies destroyed either 30 days after the cases have been denied review by the U.S. Supreme Court or 30 days after the U.S. Supreme Court releases a decision on the cases.
The court laid out Wednesday a detailed plain of how the evidence would be retained while the cases were being appealed, including that all computer hard drives be returned to their owners and that copies of the data be handed over to the Clerk of the Supreme Court and sealed.
Schmitz and his team of prosecutors had said they would appeal the original decision to the nation’s highest court and asked the state Supreme Court to put a stay on its July order requiring all evidence returned and copies destroyed.
Also, Schmitz is the only defendant named on the three cases decided by court. The justices Wednesday suggested that the district attorneys that assisted Schmitz in the investigation could intervene in the case. Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm had initiated the investigation and involved four other district attorneys.Follow @erikastrebel