The Senate approved legislation overhauling the John Doe process 18-14 with Dems slamming the legislation as a push to protect corrupt politicians. Republicans, meanwhile, called it a needed change to reform a process ripe for abuse.
Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said he originally wanted to get rid of the entire John Doe process because he believes it is so flawed, but prosecutors persuaded him to keep it for investigations of certain drug offenses.
Still, he railed against prosecutors in John Doe I and II, saying they were willing to use the process as a political weapon to trash people’s lives. He also said the supposed secret investigations aren’t truly secret. Instead, rumors spread after subpoenas are served, wreaking havoc on those who are ordered not to speak about the probes and therefore cannot defend themselves.
“That is flawed. That is a mess, and it might have been in the statutes for years and years, but it’s not right what you do to people,” Fitzgerald said.
Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay, said the only reason Republicans were pushing the bill is because of the John Doe investigations that touched Gov. Scott Walker. What’s more, he said Republicans made clear their true intention was to shield politicians from future Doe investigations by rejecting Dem amendments that would have allowed prosecutors to continue using the secret investigations to investigate crimes such as pay-to-play.
“This bill isn’t about protecting innocent people,” Hansen said. “It’s about protecting crooked politicians.”
Sen. Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee, charged the only reason Republicans were pushing the bill is because Walker is the "most corrupt governor in the history of our state" and "you're trying to protect him."
Sen. Frank Lasee, R-De Pere, rejected Dem suggestions that restricting Doe investigations would lead to an explosion of corruption. He pointed out no other state uses the John Doe process, but all of them, like Wisconsin, allows for grand juries. Those states, Lasee argued, are still able to investigate corruption with the tools at their disposal.
“I wonder if a Republican DA spent years investigating a Democrat governor, if the shoe was on the other foot, I wonder what you all would be saying in the inner circle,” Lasee said.
Someone in the chamber answered, “The same thing,” and Lasee responded, “I’m sure. I’m sure.”
The bill was messaged to the Assembly, which passed its own version of the legislation Tuesday. Dems blocked sending that bill to the Senate after final passage.