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Charlie Sykes: Sykes Writes

A Reminder About John Chisholm's Botched John Doe

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Posted at Right Wisconsin


John Chisholm knew what he was getting with Reserve Judge Barbara Kluka.

Until she abruptly recused herself last October, Kluka was the presiding judge in the latest John Doe investigation targeting conservatives in Wisconsin. It was Kluka who rubber stamped the sweeping general warrants and kitchen-sink subpoenas that lead to pre-dawn raids at the home of state activists. Most of those subpoenas have since been quashed by her successor, Judge Gregory Peterson, who said that prosecutors had not shown probable cause that the targets had broken any laws.

Kluka had no such qualms. Despite approving dozens of subpoenas and launching the massive probe, Kluka apparently put little time into overseeing the probe. Court records show that she was paid only $445.15— about a single day's work — plus a small travel stipend for overseeing a case targeting more than two dozen conservative groups. 

Chisholm had reason to know she would give him a free hand in the investigation, because they had worked together before.

That history deserves more scrutiny now that the spotlight is back on the John Doe probes into Scott Walker’s campaign and his conservative supporters.

In fact, Chisholm and Kluka had collaborated on one of the most spectacularly botched investigations of a public official in memory. In 2011 and 2012,Kluka presided over the John Doe investigation of former Milwaukee County Supervisor Johnny Thomas.

As Doe judge in the Thomas case, Judge Kluka oversaw an investigation in which the district attorney set up a sting that jurors concluded was an effort to entrap Thomas. She also approved the use of a partisan political operative with a shaky ethical track record as the undercover go-between.

What could go wrong? As it turns out, just about everything.

In court, the case was a fiasco for the prosecution. It took jurors less than 90 minutes to reject the DA's case against Johnny Thomas.

Juror Rebekah Turner said the jury quickly came to agreement that Thomas was set up and was innocent of the charges.

"I felt very strongly he was definitely not guilty," Turner said. If Thomas decides to run for office again, "I'd vote for him," she said.

She said Patrick Farley, a top county official who participated in a sting operation against Thomas, "went a circuitous route to bring (Thomas) down." The jury members, who included 10 women and two men, were puzzled as to what Farley's motive was in participating in the undercover operation against Thomas, Turner said.

Because Chisholm brought bribery charges against Thomas shortly before the 2012 election for City of Milwaukee Comptroller (in which Thomas was the prohibitive front runner), Thomas’s political career was destroyed, even though he was later exonerated.

The Johnny Thomas case – and Kluka’s under-reported role as judicial enabler -- highlights the prosecutorial over-reach and poor judgment of the some of the same prosecutors who continue to be active in the current John Doe.


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