A Republican state lawmaker wants to place new limits on Wisconsin’s John Doe court proceedings.
The legislation from state Representative Dave Craig (R-Big Bend) would limit the use of often secret John Doe investigations to violent and drug crimes, likely ending their use to root out political corruption. The Big Bend Republican says the whole point of the John Doe process is to compel testimony, which he argues is needed more for cases like drug rings or racketeering. “Do you need that for misallocation of office resources? I don’t believe so,” Craig says.
Craig is also concerned about the constitutionality of the process, largely because of the secrecy orders judges often issue in John Doe cases. Those gag orders require those involved in the case to keep quiet publicly, which he worries could violate their First Amendment rights. “Over 100 cases a year that utilize the John Doe proceeding could be challenged in federal court as unconstitutional because of that gag order,” he argues.
Craig says concerns about campaign finance-related crimes could still be investigated using Wisconsin’s grand jury proceedings.
Wisconsin’s John Doe law has drawn fire in recent years because of wide reaching investigations targeting Governor Scott Walker’s campaign when he was Milwaukee County Executive and conservative groups that were active during the state’s historic wave of recall elections. Critics say the law was abused by prosecutors to coordinate large scale investigations that were essentially fishing expeditions.
The bill is currently being circulated at the Capitol for co-sponsors. Craig says he hopes to see quick action on the measure this spring.