John Chisholm And The Season Of The Witch
As a former prosecutor,I'd like to think that those charged with enforcing the law would display some sense of justice (at least outside of Dane County). From the outside though, the seemingly endless, leak-filled John Doe investigation being conducted by Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm into the activities of people peripherally connected to Scott Walker seems thus far to be more like a rambling witch hunt than an investigative proceeding.
And we all know that the first rule of a witch hunt is that you have to find a witch.
First, it is incredible to me that this investigation has been allowed to drag on this long. Responsible Federal prosecutors investigate and indict complex fraud cases and large scale drug rings in months - and without leaks. Chisholm's "secret" investigation has now gone on for over a year and a half - with nothing to show but the conviction of a guy who exceeded campaign donation limits. The investigation has cost Milwaukee County taxpayers a fortune and stands as the longest one that the presiding judge has ever handled.
What's more though, the manner in which this proceeding is being handled just stinks.
Take the case of prominent Milwaukee real estate executive Andrew Jensen. Jensen is a well known area real estate broker, a past chairman of the Commercial Association of Realtors - Wisconsin and a relatively small dollar contributor to Governor Walker.
According to published reports, Jensen was to be granted immunity in this secret proceeding. However, according to his lawyer, Jensen irritated prosecutors by refusing "to adopt their version of events" - leading to his sudden arrest and subsequent release without charges being issued. In the meantime though, the media was tipped off about Jensen's situation and given an opportunity to trumpet his arrest and tarnish his name. Talk about your Star Chamber.
One way to interpret the public comments of Jensen's attorney is that prosecutors wanted Jensen to make a false statement and that Jensen was arrested after refusing to do so. If there is any truth at all to this suggestion, you have to wonder: "Is this Salem, Massachusetts in 1692 or Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 2012"?
As an aside, could the local newspaper have embarrassed itself any more in the way it handled this matter? For those keeping score, the same edition of the paper that prominently trumpeted Jensen's arrest (without charges) expressly declined to print the names of four people involved in beating a West Allis man to death "because the four hadn't yet "been charged".
What's that they say on ESPN? Oh yeah, "Come on man"!
The Jensen matter is just the latest peculiar public disclosure in this secret proceeding. Frankly, if you had leaks like this at your house, you'd either be calling a plumber or building a boat.
Presumably, at some point in time, the way this investigation has been handled by prosecutors will be reviewed by courts and appropriate ethics officials. Until then however, Chisholm is clearly trying to send a message of "play ball with me - or else" to witnesses. The question though is what "playing ball" means when it comes to this proceeding?
I appreciate the fact that the politically astute Chisholm is in a bit of a box. After spending so much time and effort on this investigation, there is an expectation in many quarters that he has to find something to charge someone with. What's more, with a recall election looming, many Democrats believe that charges against Walker allies by the Democrat District Attorney of Milwaukee County present the best chance that the Democrats may have of actually taking out Walker. The operative phrase being "charges" - not necessarily convictions.
So, what's the DA to do?
Chisholm can start by remembering that he's supposed to be one of the good guys. Sometimes in highly charged political investigations, prosecutors can lose sight of this fact - and that truly is the road to you know where.
The exception of course is if you're a prosecutor in Dane County - where a good witch hunt can pave the road to higher office. But I digress.
You would sincerely hope that if and/or when something happens in this leak-filled secret proceeding, justice will be served. Unfortunately, a lot of the things that have gone on over the past 18 months raise questions about whether this will be the case?
After all, it is the season of the witch.