Finally! A Defense of Chisholm and Nettesheim's John Doe Investigation

May. 16, 2012
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One of the most disheartening aspects of the ongoing Milwaukee County-based John Doe investigation is the constant attack on those running it—Milwaukee County DA John Chisholm and Judge Neal Nettesheim.

The attacks, of course, are coming from the right wing, because the investigation is looking into possible misconduct of aides to Gov. Scott Walker and, allegedly, Walker himself. Walker is their boy, and they're going to use all forms of the media—underwritten by Journal Communications and the Bradley Foundation—to beat up on Chisholm and Nettesheim.

It's not a fair fight. The judge and the DA cannot talk about the investigation. Those working for them cannot talk about it.

But the right-wing yakkers are claiming that the investigation is leaking like a sieve.

It's not true.

Yes, there is information about the Doe floating around the media and the Internet. But are the yakkers absolutely positive that the sources are the John Doe investigators? Because they aren't. The folks who are involved in the Doe don't talk. Believe me. They don't.

Bits and pieces of the investigation are public record—the fact that there is a Doe, the names of those who have been granted immunity, and the criminal complaints that have already been filed. The rest of the info has been made as a result of digging, going back through strange events in Milwaukee County's Walker era, and sort of following the thread of the thing to its potential conclusions.

Believe me, I have heard so many wild rumors about this thing. But they're not coming from the DA's office.  

I'll have more to say about the Doe in the coming days and weeks.

For now, I'll just say that I'm thrilled that members of the criminal justice system are finally standing up and defending Chisholm and Nettesheim in this open letter to Wisconsin:

Preserving Judicial and Prosecutorial Independence in Wisconsin

May 15, 2012

Fellow Wisconsin citizens:

Recently, whether by coincidence or by coordination, this state has seen an increase in public comment impugning the propriety, motives, and competence of a John Doe investigation in Milwaukee County. Some of that comment has been directed at the office of the Milwaukee County District Attorney, and some at John Chisholm personally. Because this John Doe investigation, like all such investigations, is under the control of a judge, some of that comment also has been directed at the experienced and capable judge, the Hon. Neal P. Nettesheim, who is conducting and overseeing that investigation. As people who have devoted much of our lives to the prosecutorial function, the judicial function, or both, and more importantly who have strived to support the rule of law, we think it important to speak.

We understand that political passions are high at this time in Wisconsin's history. But we also understand that such times are exactly when the dispassionate rule of law is most essential. This nation and this state depend upon independent prosecutors who have the courage, objectivity and discipline to follow the evidence wherever it may lead, proceeding deliberately and cautiously all the while. Likewise, the nation and the state depend upon an independent judiciary to administer justice impartially, objectively, and honestly. The Milwaukee County District Attorney, his office, and Judge Nettesheim consistently have acted in exactly these traditions. They have done nothing to shake or betray our confidence in them and in the independence of their work.

There is no evidence that anyone associated with the prosecutorial, investigative, and judicial functions of this John Doe inquiry has violated the secrecy order in that inquiry or otherwise acted contrary to law or good conscience. There is no evidence of partiality or bias. There is no evidence of incompetence, undue delay, or improper motive. All evidence known to us is to the contrary. We agree with Gov. Scott Walker, who has said publicly that he has seen no reason to question the fairness of the John Doe investigation.

Indeed, this John Doe investigation, and the prosecutions that have resulted from it, are solid examples of the rule of law, rather than the rule of the crowd, the rule of the powerful, or even the rule of transient public sentiment. The rule of law has done much to maintain the legitimacy and stability of our political institutions since this nation's founding. The people who have been charged but not convicted are presumed innocent, as they must be. Those who may be uncharged targets or subjects of the investigation have maintained anonymity and the presumption of absolute innocence to the full extent that both the Milwaukee County District Attorney's office and the supervising judge have been able to assure that.

Neither a judge nor a prosecutor can stop speculation by media or the public, though. In a free society, they should not and cannot have that power. But they also must not bear the blame for the political passions, speculation, and commentary that they have done nothing to fan or to feed. Instead, all Wisconsinites who believe in the rule of law and in the importance of fair and independent prosecutorial and judicial functions should be proud of Mr. Chisholm, his office, and Judge Nettesheim. They are public servants in the finest and highest sense.


Hon. Janine P. Geske
Retired Justice,
Wisconsin Supreme Court

Hon. Patricia D. McMahon
Retired Judge, Milwaukee County
Circuit Court

Hon. Mark A. Frankel
Retired Judge,
Dane County Circuit Court

E. Michael McCann
Retired District Attorney,
Milwaukee County

Robert J. Jambois 
Former District Attorney,
Kenosha County

Gregory J. O'Meara, S.J.
Former Assistant District Attorney,
Milwaukee County; Associate
Professor, Marquette U. Law School

Ben Kempinen
Clinical Professor & Director,
Prosecution Clinic
U. Wisconsin Law School


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