Why Leaks Matter - And Should Be Of Concern To Responsible Prosecutors
It's now been more than two years since the Milwaukee County District Attorney's Office launched the seemingly never ending probe into Scott Walker's tenure as Milwaukee County Executive. Two years!
Over the course of two years, the investigation has been "expanded" a total of seven times and has resulted in a handful of charges against political operatives. The charges against one of the defendants has nothing at all to do with activities within the County Executive's Office.
History - and the voters - will ultimately decide whether the time and money spent on this investigation was worth it? .
Let me offer an example.
On January 25th of this year, the local newspaper ran a story containing extensive details of one aspect of the "secret investigation". The story alleged that prosecutors were pursuing what strikes me as a particularly convoluted investigation into possible bid-rigging for a Milwaukee County contract that ended up not being bid out(!). Good luck with that prosecution.
Still, the article named names and appeared to offer some pretty deep insights into the theories being pursued by the "secret" investigation. Five months later, nobody has been charged.
That of course pales in comparison with the way a respected local businessman was treated by prosecutors. Treatment which resulted in the DA's Office taking the perhaps unprecedented step of publicly confirming that the businessman, his company and his clients were not involved in any criminal wrongdoing!
So, why should anybody care if details of an investigation leak out in advance of charges or reputations are ruined? Well, how would you like it if it was you?
Seriously, how would you feel if you were a respected businessperson in the community who suddenly gets a subpoena that requires you to testify at a John Doe investigation. When your proffered testimony allegedly doesn't match what the DA's Office wants to hear, you're summarily arrested (without a warrant), the media is alerted and your arrest becomes a front-page story. Good luck getting your reputation back.
Or how would you feel if you're a businessman who reads a story suggesting that you're under investigation for "bid rigging" despite the fact that no charges appear to be forthcoming (at least as of yet). Again, good luck doing business under a cloud of suspicion that may or may not have any legal basis.
This is why the prosecution in any criminal case is supposed to speak through the charges it issues and the evidence it presents in court. You can't defend yourself against a newspaper story implying that you're under investigation for criminal activity. What's more, you can never get your reputation back - even if charges are never issued.
I don't pretend to know where all the leaks in this case have come from? I concede that some of them are probably inevitable when you have a case involving high-profile people that is allowed to seemingly drag on forever. People like to talk - or gossip - or spread rumors for a variety of reasons.
Still, it's not right and it's not fair to the subjects of the leaks who have not been charged with criminal behavior. It's also not right that this investigation was exploited for political purposes in the unsuccessful effort to recall Governor Walker.
My guess is that as long as the investigation drags on, the leaks will continue. I think this particular boat is simply too far underwater to keep afloat. Still maybe everyone can learn some things for the future.
Things like "leaks matter".