Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Why Republicans are Dumping on Jim Doyle

By - Sep 4th, 2001 10:01 am

Republicans are squirming about a state investigation of the legislative caucuses, and their attack dogs are going after Attorney General Jim Doyle to try to prevent it. The latest accusation against Doyle is that his investigation could be compromised because one of his key aides, Joanna Richard, served as director of the Senate Democratic Caucus from 1995 to 1999.

“Certainly she was deeply involved in the activities of the Senate Democratic caucus,” charges Darrin Schmitz, executive director of the Republican Party of Wisconsin. “She directed the activities. And now she is a key aide to Doyle and a political strategist or sorts. That in itself raises red flags. We think [Doyle] should recuse himself from the investigation.”

The stakes are high in this investigation. Republican and Democratic caucuses in each house of the legislature are accused of using staff to secretly campaign for legislative candidates in violation of the law. But the Assembly Republican Caucus faces a more serious allegation: destroying public records after they were requested by the Wisconsin State Journal. “That’s a Class E felony,” says a source in Doyle’s office. “Maybe Republicans are planting this stuff because they’re worried about the investigation.”

“These are sworn- to-uphold-the-law investigative officers,” says Mitch Henck, spokesperson for Doyle’s office. “We don’t give any special consideration or special treatment.”

Henck notes that Doyle’s office merely provides “the cops that are doing the investigative gathering.” The prosecutor in the case against the Senate Democratic Caucus is Milwaukee County District Attorney E. Michael McCann.

Is McCann concerned that Richard works for Doyle? “I’m aware of it,” he says. “I don’t know what conflicts for her or for the attorney general there will be. It all depends as you go down the road, what information surfaces.”

“My suspicion is that these investigators have not met this woman,” McCann adds. “Whatever happens, my gosh, I would hope they are reporting to someone else.” Henck says Richard, who is Doyle’s legislative liaison, will have no involvement in the investigation.

In the small world of state politics, it can be difficult to find people with no partisan conflicts. Dane County District Attorney Brian Blanchard was originally overseeing all four caucus investigations, but yielded to McCann on the Senate Democratic caucus case, after Blanchard discovered a staff member of that caucus helped him fill out nomination papers when he ran for office.

Republicans had earlier charged Doyle should withdraw from the investigation because he may have benefited from campaign work done by the Democratic caucuses, but Doyle has denied the charge. Doye has suggested “there are those, in both political parties, who would like to see the Department of Justice removed from the process, because it is the agency with the resources… to conduct a thorough investigation.”

Without the Department of Justice investigators, McCann says, “I don’t know who the hell we’d have.” McCann says neither Milwaukee nor Dane County have much investigative manpower. “The state investigators are a critical resource.”

“If down the road, [Doyle’s office] decides they have to withdraw from the investigation, I would say please, permit their investigators to continue reporting to me,” McCann adds. Under that scenario, he explains, “you’re not reporting to Doyle and you’re not sharing what you are doing.”

In the meantime, he says, he’s aware of what investigators are turning up. “Further down the road this issue will clarify one way or the other,” McCann predicts.

The Mayoral Candidate Who Couldn’t

Circuit Court Judge Jeff Wagner confirms this publication’s earlier prediction that he is preparing to run for mayor in 2004. “Yes, I’m considering it,” he says. “I have a number of individuals who are supporting the prospect of me doing it,” he says.

But his colleague, Circuit Court Judge John Siefert, says Wagner is barred from running. Siefert cites Article VII, Section 10 of the state constitution, which says “no justice of the supreme court or any court of record shall hold any other office of public trust… during the term for which elected.”

Since Wagner’s term runs until 2006, “this means he couldn’t run for another office during that period,” Siefert says. In short, even if Wagner resigned his judgeship, he still wouldn’t be able to run for any other office “of public trust” until after the day in 2006 when his judicial term of office expires.

Wagner says “that provision doesn’t make a lot of sense,” and Jim Alexander, executive director of the Wisconsin Judicial Commission, seems to agree with him. “Once they resign from office, they can run for another office,” Alexander declares, citing a rule in the code of judicial conduct, section 60.06.

But wouldn’t the state constitution supersede the code of judicial conduct? “I don’t read the constitution the way you do,” Alexander counters.

Siefert says Alexander, who has run the Wisconsin Judicial Commission for 11 years, is dead wrong: “He is correct in stating that all the judicial code of conduct requires is that you resign to run. However, the State Constitution can require more. The state constitution cannot be ignored.”

Siefert, moreover, notes the Wisconsin Supreme Court has already interpreted the state constitution’s prohibition, in the case involving former U.S. Senator Joe McCarthy, who resigned from his position as circuit judge and won the election for Senator in 1947. The court upheld McCarthy’s election, in essence declaring the state constitution has no power over federal elections. But the ruling also interpreted the state constitution to bar judges from running for any other state office during the term elected, Siefert says.

Alexander, however, is dubious. “Quite frankly, I wonder if under the federal constitution, there’s any way you could bar someone from running for office if they resigned from the office they were holding.”

But Siefert says Alexander is wrong again. He notes the federal court of appeals ruled on that question in a case involving Judge Morial in New Orleans. “He sought a leave of absence from the bench to run for mayor of New Orleans,” Siefert explains. “The Judicial Commission of Louisiana denied him the leave.” Siefert says Morial ran for mayor and won, but was eventually denied office by a ruling of the federal appeals court, which upheld the state’s ability to regulate whether a judge can run for other offices. Today, Judge Morial’s son is Mayor of New Orleans, Seifert adds.

Siefert’s conclusion: “Anyone who resigns based on following Alexander’s view of the law is taking a big, big risk.” Siefert says he would advise Wagner to ask the state court of appeals to make a declaratory judgment to interpret the state constitution. “That’s another avenue to take,” Wagner says, “but I’m not at that juncture yet.”

Siefert has clearly done a lot of research on this issue, perhaps because he was considering running for Milwaukee County Sheriff, as some have speculated. He says that under his reading of the state constitution, he would not be able to run for sheriff because the election occurs during Siefert’s current term of office.

The only thing Siefert and Alexander agreed on was that a municipal court is not a “court of record.” This means municipal Judge Vince Bobot is not limited by the constitutional provision in question, and could run for mayor during his current term of office (which runs until 2005), though he would have to resign from office before entering the race. That’s still a daunting provision, for it means giving up a good paying judgeship with no guarantee of winning the mayor’s race.

This article was originally published by Milwaukee World.

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