WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: Milwaukee County prosecutors appeal court's decision on John Doe case
CHICAGO - Prosecutors took quick action today to try and reinstate their John Doe investigation into alleged illegal campaign activities in the Wisconsin recall elections.
The Milwaukee County district attorney's office filed an appeal with the Seventh Circuit federal appellate court in Chicago. That court was asked to block yesterday's order from Milwaukee Federal Judge Rudolph Randa to halt the nearly two-year-old secret probe -- and to let prosecutors keep the evidence they've gathered. Prosecutors said the order to destroy the documents they gathered was inappropriate -- and it cannot be brought back if the John Doe is eventually allowed to continue. The probe was looking into alleged illegal campaign coordination between conservative groups and GOP candidates in the 2011-and-'12 recall elections -- including Governor Scott Walker. Randa said the investigation violated the free speech rights of one of the targets, the Wisconsin Club for Growth. State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Burlington) called the Randa ruling a "vindication" which showed that the investigation was more about a political motive than about fact-finding. Samuel Leib, one of the attorneys who filed the appeal on behalf of the prosecution, said that nobody's "above the law" -- or above an investigation into a person's conduct.
A judge's order to end the John Doe probe into campaign activities in the Wisconsin recall elections could have some major effects in this fall's contests. According to Federal Judge Rudolph Randa's decision from yesterday, one of the targets of the John Doe -- the Wisconsin Club for Growth -- figured it lost two-million dollars in fund-raising ability to buy issue ads to benefit conservative candidates. That's after the group and its treasurer had club records subpoenaed dating back to early 2009 -- and the subpoenas were subject to secrecy orders. Meanwhile, Milwaukee attorney Mike Maistelman says Republican Governor Scott Walker should benefit from the dropping of the John Doe. That's because he can claim he was wrongly targeted by his political enemies, as the Republican Walker campaigns for governor this fall and possibly for president in 2016. Judge Randa ruled that the investigation violated the Club for Growth's free speech rights -- and he ordered that everything seized during the probe be returned. The special prosecutor expects to appeal the judge's decision.
Minority Democrats on a state Assembly task force said the panel's final recommendations fell short of fixing problems with the rural public schools they studied. At a news conference today, Democratic members said the final report did not address declining enrollments, and flaws in the formula for providing state aid to schools. Superintendents from Rhinelander, Benton, and Alma joined the four Democrats on the task force in raising their concerns. Assembly Republican Rob Swearingen of Rhinelander chaired the task force and released the recommendations yesterday. They included more state funding for bilingual programs, high busing costs, more high-speed Internet access, and forgiving student loans for teachers who stay in rural areas. It also called for tweaks in the state funding formula -- plus a review of the 1993 state revenue limits which observers often blame for declines in rural schools. The superintendents said they were grateful for what the task force did, and the proposals need to be followed up in the next session with bills and money to adopt changes.
Wisconsin's W-2 welfare-to-work program will get an extra $24-million to cover much of an expected deficit. The Legislature's Joint Finance Committee approved the added funding yesterday. It's expected to close the funding gap by the time the current budget period ends in mid-2015. Enrollments in W-2 have dropped in recent months, but not as much as the Walker administration had predicted. Former Governor Tommy Thompson created the W-2 program in the 1990's, as a replacement for outright welfare grants. The vast majority of the program's clients are in Milwaukee County.
One of the most conservative members of the Wisconsin Assembly plans to run for the Senate this fall. His chief aide confirms that Whitewater Republican Steve Nass will announce his candidacy this afternoon for the Senate post to be vacated by 16-year legislative veteran Neal Kedzie. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel said the move is already raising concerns among Senate Republicans -- fearing they might have trouble rounding up votes to pass the next state budget if he wins, and the GOP has a slim majority next year. Nass has voted against budgets proposed by both parties over his two dozen years in office, saying they failed the tests of fiscal conservatism. Kedzie, a Republican from Elkhorn, announced yesterday he would step down in November. The Journal-Sentinel says Kedzie will endorse Nass -- and so will state Assembly Republican Tyler August of Lake Geneva, who represents about a third of Kedzie's Senate district.
Wisconsin Democrats are one step closer to choosing Mary Burke as their candidate for governor against GOP incumbent Scott Walker. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel says the state Democratic Party's administrative committee has endorsed the former Trek Bicycle executive -- much to the chagrin of Madison state Assemblyman Brett Hulsey, who entered the race a couple weeks ago. The endorsement came before the State Democratic Convention, which begins a month from yesterday in Wisconsin Dells. Hulsey calls the endorsement process "undemocratic." State party chairman Mike Tate tells the Journal-Sentinel that Burke is leading Wisconsin in a new direction by spelling out a plan to focus on the middle class to help create a thriving economy. State GOP director Joe Fadness said it's ironic that Democratic leaders went out of their way to clear the field for Burke considering that her business record represents much of what they oppose. The Democrats' administrative panel also endorsed outgoing state Senator John Lehman of Racine as the party's nominee for lieutenant governor. The panel did not endorse anyone in a three-way Democratic race for attorney general.
Roundy's is leaving most of the Minneapolis-Saint Paul market. The Milwaukee-based grocery and food distribution chain said today it will sell 18 Rainbow Foods stores in the Twin Cities' region for $65-million, plus proceeds from their inventories. Supervalu and Lunds will buy the stores. Ten will become Cub Food stores. Two other Rainbow locations will be re-named as Byerly's. Six Rainbow stores will keep their names intact. Roundy's also said it's still looking for buyers for nine remaining Rainbow stores in the Twin Cities -- and once they're sold or closed, the company will be out of the Minnesota metro altogether. CEO Robert Mariano said increased competition in the Twin Cities' food market led to Roundy's decision. Roundy's operates a total of 169 grocery stores and 114 pharmacies in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois.
A company in Hudson that provides manufacturing services for medical devices is about to be owned by a private equity firm from San Francisco. The deal allows the Phillips-Medisize Corporation to keep its management team in place, along with its current headquarters in far western Wisconsin. A purchase price was not disclosed. The Reuters News Service says the deal is close to $800-million -- and it's expected to close in the "coming months" pending regulatory approvals. Phillips CEO Matt Jennings said Golden Gate's business relationships, financial record, and track record will help solidify his company's leading position in the market. Phillips-Medisize sells products to a range of customers involved in blue-chip medical devices, pharmaceuticals, and other commercial firms. It has 3,100 employees in 19 locations in America, Mexico, China, and Europe -- including a design center in Wisconsin. Golden Gate manages about $12-billion of capital.
A state prisoner is having six more years added to his sentence, for attacking two correctional officers who were searching his cell for stolen kitchen items. 56-year-old Paul Golden was convicted, after he seriously injured guards Tom Cicha and Carrie Seichter in April of 2012 at the Stanley Prison in Chippewa County. Cicha is back at work after suffering a concussion. Seichter had a concussion and a broken nose. She left her job, and she still has post-traumatic stress disorder after getting both physical and speech therapy. Golden has 13 convictions, including a sexual assault from 2006. He fired several attorneys in the case of his attack on the prison guards. At one point, Golden claimed self-defense -- but he later allowed his trial to proceed in his absence. He was convicted quickly, and he also skipped out on his sentencing -- where Judge Roderick Cameron approved the guards' request for the maximum sentence.
A driver in western Wisconsin might not spend any time behind bars for illegally texting just before his vehicle killed an elderly pedestrian. 41-year-old Timothy Peterson, who now lives in Red Wing, Minnesota was given a diversion agreement by a Trempealeau County judge. If he meets certain conditions, he will not have to spend time behind bars after he pleaded no contest to a felony count of negligent homicide. Investigators found that Peterson was texting on his cellphone just two minutes before his vehicle struck-and-killed 86-year-old Cecelia Killian in January of last year. She was crossing a street in Independence, where Peterson was living at the time. Circuit Judge John Damon imposed a five-year diversion agreement in which he must perform 200 hours of community service. He must spend half that time talking to teens about the dangers of texting and driving -- which in-and-of itself is against state law. Killian's family said the diversion agreement was okay with them. They said a prison sentence would only hurt another family.
A far-northern Wisconsin man has pleaded innocent to killing his parents. 44-year-old Jim Crain Junior of Iron River remains in jail under a one-million dollar bond, following his arraignment on five Bayfield County charges. He's accused of killing his 79-year-old father Jim Crain and his 76-year-old mother Eunice last December at their apartment in Iron River. Eunice was able to call 911 just before she died, and officers said they found both parents dead with towels over their heads in a dining room pool of blood. The defendant was in the bathroom with a blood-stained butcher knife and wounds that he apparently gave himself to his neck and wrists. He was under an induced coma at a Duluth hospital before he recovered enough to go to jail. A trial date could be set during a status conference that's scheduled for May 27th. Crain is charged with two counts of homicide, two counts of battery to law enforcement or rescuers, and failing to comply with an officer while in custody.
Several waves of thunderstorms went through Wisconsin's mid-section this morning. Hail fell at various times in a number of communities between 4:30 and nine this morning -- and the Ironton area in Sauk County was under a severe thunderstorm warning until 10:30. Clark County appeared to be the hardest this morning. Almost tennis-ball-sized hail fell near Neillsville, and Christie -- about 20 miles west of Marshfield -- had hail two inches deep. Places between Galesville and Sheboygan had anywhere from a quarter-inch to one-inch hail. That was after southern Wisconsin had hail in some areas last night. As of 9:45 this morning, almost 250 electric customers had power outages. X-cel Energy had around 100 outages in northwest Wisconsin, including 70 at Menomonie. A low pressure system that's approaching the state from the west is expected to bring more showers and thunderstorms to all of Wisconsin at least into this evening. A cloudy and warmer day is in the offing for tomorrow. Parts of southern Wisconsin could hit 80-degrees for the first time this year -- and more thunderstorms are due in later tomorrow and into Friday.
Murphy's Law normally takes a holiday for a teenager's prom night. But almost anything that could have gone wrong did, for a girl who was celebrating her 17th birthday on the night of the Mayville High School prom. The Beaver Dam Daily Citizen said a slippery fabric from the youngster's gown got caught under her foot as she was driving back from the dance late Saturday night. The teen tried to dislodge the fabric -- and in the process, her vehicle sideswiped two others. The girl was not physically hurt, and she was able to drive home -- but the prom memories that are supposed to last a lifetime turned into something she'd rather forget.