Who Watches John Chisholm's Watchmen?

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Who Watches John Chisholm's Watchmen?

CREATED Apr 30, 2012

As life imitates art more and more, it's fair to ask: "Who watches John Chisholm's Watchmen".

About ten days ago, the Milwaukee County DA's Office took the perhaps unprecedented step of publicly confirming that local businessman Andrew Jensen, his company and his clients were not involved in any criminal wrongdoing and are not the subject of any ongoing criminal investigation. 

This statement was necessitated, in my opinion, by the questionable tactics employed by the DA's Office in the first place.   Tactics which unfairly and arguably maliciously  impugned the reputation of Mr. Jensen.

As everyone knows by now, DA John Chisholm has spent almost two years and a vast amount of taxpayer money conducting a "secret" John Doe investigation into activities that allegedly occurred during Scott Walker's term as County Executive.  The investigation has been riddled with leaks from the outset.

As part of the "secret investigation", the DA's Office is pursuing a convoluted theory on potential bid rigging.  In order to obtain evidence, Mr. Jensen was apparently required to appear before the John Doe investigation and offer testimony.

As a general rule, if a witness refuses to appear as required by a subpoena or refuses to testify after being given immunity, the witness is taken before the presiding judge for a contempt hearing.  If a witness testifies falsely, the witness may be prosecuted for perjury.  That's how it usually works.

According to reports, Jensen was required to provide evidence under a grant of immunity.  However, at least according to his former attorney, Jensen ran afoul of the DA's Office when he refused to "adopt the prosecution's version of events". 

One interpretation of this statement is that the prosecution wanted Jensen to make a false statement to implicate others - and he declined.  In any event, after refusing to adopt the prosecution's version of events, he was ordered arrested by an Assistant District Attorney involved in the case.

No arrest warrant.  No criminal complaint.  No contempt hearing.  No perjury prosecution. No nothing.

To make matters worse, almost immediately after the arrest, someone familiar with the investigation tipped off the media.  Mr. Jensen's mug shot was then prominently featured in the local newspaper and in various television reports.

Mr. Jensen was released shortly after his arrest.  No arrest warrant was ever issued and no charges were ever brought. He has now been exonerated of any wrongdoing - but you can't unring a bell.

Let me offer one possible version of what occurred in this sorry matter. 

An overzealous prosecutor became angry when Mr. Jensen would not shape his testimony to match the theory of the prosecution.  In a fit of anger, the prosecution ordered the immediate arrest of Jensen in an effort to "encourage" him to testify in a certain fashion.  The fact of Jensen's arrest was then made known to the public in an effort to further pressure Jensen and to send a message to other witnesses.  That message: "tell us what we want to hear or we'll ruin your reputation too".

Maybe it didn't happen exactly that way - but I wouldn't advise betting against that theory.

Under the circumstances, a public statement absolving Mr. Jensen of wrongdoing is certainly appropriate.  What we don't know is whether this public statement will forestall an additional investigation into the activities of the prosecution.  Nevertheless, the way this was handled by the DA's Office is embarrassing at the least.

Candidly, this whole shoddy incident is reminiscent of the movie "Absence of Malice".  In that film, an overzealous prosecutor leaks information to a reporter for the purpose of pressuring a witness.  That movie doesn't turn out too well for the prosecution or the reporter involved.

The point of all this is that prosecutors in the District Attorney's Office are supposed to be the good guys.  You know, the ones standing up for truth and justice and all that.  In this particular case - at least in relation to this particular witness - it seems clear the DA's Office were not the ones wearing the white hats.

And that's disappointing.

It also begs the question: Who watches John Chisholm's watchmen?

As an aside, the local newspaper didn't exactly cover itself with glory on this one either.  The newspaper claims to have a policy of not naming criminal suspects until they are formally charged.  Mr. Jensen was, of course, never charged with anything - but he was most certainly named in the press.

I personally don't have a problem with making the names of those arrested public before formal charges are issued.  Still, if you have a policy of not doing so, follow the policy.  To prematurely name Mr. Jensen was, at best, to engage in situational ethics!