Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Judge Randa Dares the Supreme Court to Take His John Doe Case

By Lisa Kaiser
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Does Gov. Scott Walker have nine lives or what? 

Yesterday, his ally, ultraconservative Federalist Society member and U.S. District Court Judge Rudolph Randa totally halted the John Doe investigation into alleged coordination between Walker’s campaign committee and sympathetic right-wing groups.

Randa quickly did so after prosecutors on Monday asked the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals to prevent Randa from shutting it down, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.

So Randa did it anyway.

No wonder why folks call him “Rocket Ride Rudy.”

I’m not an attorney but reading his decision halting the case I got the sense that we’re in uncharted territory here.

Randa leans heavily on recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings that have chipped away at campaign finance laws meant to prevent corruption, or at least the appearance of it. These divisive, unpopular Roberts court has dialed back the meaning of corruption so that it only refers to explicit quid pro quo corruption.

Embedding an allegedly independent group within one’s campaign—as Walker seemed to do with longtime advisor R.J. Johnson, who was the Club for Growth’s spokesman—doesn’t rise to that level, Randa said.

So he shut down the investigation, saying to Walker and these groups, basically, go for it. If you’ve got the same political aims, then it's free speech.

(I wonder how Randa would have ruled if, for example, Milwaukee Mayor and Democratic candidate for governor Tom Barrett had embedded a United Wisconsin chieftain in his campaign. I doubt that Randa would have seen that as mere political free speech.)

I’ll let the legal experts weigh in on the merits of his ruling. Randa’s been on shaky ground before, most prominently in the Georgia Thompson case, which the appeals court overturned based on “beyond thin” evidence presented by, don’t you know it, Walker’s personal attorney, Steven Biskupic, then a federal prosecutor. Thompson was freed from prison immediately. Randa’s still on the bench.

Randa seems to be daring prosecutors to appeal yesterday’s decision, right up to the U.S. Supreme Court. If the high court gets this case, it’s hard to imagine that given its recent rulings it would have a problem with Walker’s (alleged) setup with the Wisconsin Club for Growth.

Which leads us to another political question. Would success in the U.S. Supreme Court bolster Walker, making him a poster boy for anything-goes free speech advocates? Or would it scuttle his presidential ambitions? I mean, Walker’s national name recognition seems to be pretty low. If you aren’t an avid Fox News watcher, billionaire donor or Wisconsin resident, he just isn’t registering. If you were Walker, would you want to be introduced to the public as the governor whose criminal investigation got heard before the U.S. Supreme Court?

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