New Drama in Wis. Campaign-Finance Probe

     MADISON, Wis. (CN) – Shortly after her colleagues ejected the state’s watchdog on campaign-finance corruption, Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Shirley Abrahamson seemed quickly vindicated in her prediction the ruling had “come unglued.”
     When the court on Wednesday terminated special prosecutor Francis Schmitz’s authority to probe for campaign-finance violations during Gov. Scott Walker’s election, it noted that district attorneys from five cooperating counties could take up the mantle if they wanted.
     An order issued at 5:45 p.m. on a Friday shows that the court did not wait long to start a 14-day timer on intervention motion by the attorneys “for all purposes,” giving the state-funded offices until Dec. 18.
     While the majority order consists of two brief sentences, supported by Chief Justice Patience Drake Roggensack and three others, the dissent by Justice Shirley Abrahamson takes up six pages.
     True-to-form, the former chief lambasts the majority’s order and procedure.
     “The instant order is the embodiment of the four justices’ piecemeal approach to the John Doe trilogy and the four justices’ constantly changing direction,” Abrahamson wrote. “Thus, the four justices add to the mess they have created.”
     To begin with, Abrahamson said, the “four justices” are scrambling to fill the gap in representation they created by terminating Schmitz as a representative of the state in ongoing litigation.
     “The four justices are seeking someone other than the special prosecutor to represent the prosecution’s and the state’s interests so that the court can conduct adversarial proceedings on numerous issues that are already before the court and those that are sure to come up in the future,” the dissent states.
     Further, the phrase “for all purposes” is vague, and the court had provided no direction as to what their authority may be upon taking up Schmitz’s case, Abrahamson added.
     Questioning the fairness of such a short deadline, moreover, Abrahamson said it is ultimately unenforceable because motions to intervene are evaluated based on the circumstances of the case at the time of the motion.
     “As a result, even when a court sets a deadline for filing a motion to intervene, the circumstances surrounding the motion to intervene and the underlying case determine whether intervention is timely, not a mechanical application of the deadline alone,” Abrahamson wrote.
     The judge also skewered her colleagues for not having included the deadline in the opinion they released just days earlier, saying their hurry to release Friday’s order gave her little time to write a dissent.
     “The court’s practice in the instant order is disrespectful of minority views and contrary to the way a collegial court should act,” she wrote.
     Abrahamson predicted new challenges for the court related to changes in the John Doe statutes , which now exempt political crimes – the type at issue in this case – from John Doe investigation.

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