The Open Records Law strikes again

Verify the Recall has used the state Open Records Law to ferret out signers of the Gov. Scott Walker recall petitions, including circuit judges, newspaper reporters and TV news people.

Add to that list another group: Attorneys in the Milwaukee County district attorney’s office, as noted by Media Trackers:

Media Trackers is able to confirm that 43 current employees of the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office signed the petition to recall Governor Scott Walker. … The employees signing the Walker recall petition range in stature from a Deputy District Attorney, to at least 19 Assistant District Attorneys, and a host of support staff.

Highest ranking among the officials signing the Walker recall petition was Deputy District Attorney Lovell Johnson Jr. Johnson is one of five Deputy District Attorney’s who report directly to DA John Chisholm.

In addition to DDA Johnson Jr., Media Trackers was able to confirm that 19 Assistant District Attorneys (employee status provided by the Milwaukee DA as of March 26, 2012) signed the Walker recall at the time of publication. …

Perhaps one of the most interesting employees at the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office who signed the Scott Walker recall petition is Janet Oelstrom, a secretary for the Public Integrity Unit. The Public Integrity Unit is responsible for anti-corruption probes and the now-familiar ‘John Doe’ investigations. …

A total of 23 support staff for the Milwaukee District Attorney’s office were confirmed to have signed the recall petition. One recall petition was circulated by support staff employee Mary Ann Onorato and included ten Milwaukee County DA support staff employees who signed on Friday November 18, and Monday November 21. …

Some Milwaukee County DA employees expressed their disapproval of Governor Walker on social media by joining anti-Walker Facebook groups such as ‘Scott Walker is a Douchebag’ and ‘Boycott Scott Walker Contributors.’ Others posted disparaging comments about Governor Walker on Facebook, another has the now-famous Wisconsin ‘Blue Fist’ as her Facebook profile picture, and one ADA had a picture of a ‘Recall Walker’ yard sign as a profile picture.

A support staff employee told Media Trackers that she did not know of any policy whereby Milwaukee District Attorney support staff employees were forbidden from signing the Walker recall petition.

So not only do we know you can’t get justice from certain circuit judges in this state, you can’t get justice from the Milwaukee County DA’s office either. (I’d add the Dane County DA’s office to that list, but I haven’t seen any of that office’s signatures reported. Yet.) That is yet another unintended consequence of Recallarama. (In addition to the exposure of the depth and breadth of ignorance among prosecutors, judges and the media as to what the Open Records Law includes.) Why exactly should either a plaintiff in a civil action or a defendant in a criminal complaint or civil action assume he or she can be fairly treated in the Dane or Milwaukee county courthouses?

About the mysterious John Doe investigation into Walker’s staffers’ activities when he was county executive, an emailer to WTMJ radio’s Charlie Sykes writes:

These disclosures show that the Milwaukee CountyDA’s office is undeniablyand irretrievably compromised in terms of partisan political bias. An office with this many individuals directly and publicly involved in an effort to politically destroy Governor Scott Walker simply cannot be entrusted with an investigation of current and former members of the Governor’s staff thatcould be – and arguably has been – manipulated for directly political ends.

The Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office has been exposed as a hotbed for political recall activity against Governor Scott Walker. As such, it has disqualified itself as an objective arbiter of law and fact with regard to activities of the Governor and his current and former staff.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel counters, but not exactly persuasively:

“My understanding is that none of the attorneys in this office involved in politically related investigations has participated in the recall process,” said Chief Deputy District Attorney Kent Lovern. …

Lovern said his office does not have a policy restricting employees from signing recall petitions.

“It would be against Wisconsin law for the District Attorney to prohibit employees of the office from participating in the democratic process,” Lovern said in an email. “Depending on their specific assignments, attorneys may have ethical or conflict considerations that prohibit them from actively participating in politics.”

So the John Doe investigators didn’t sign, but it would be OK if they did because their constitutional rights are more important than their responsibility to those paying their salaries. That’s how I read what Lovern is quoted as saying. As usual, the concept “appearance of impropriety” completely escapes the government employees working in the Milwaukee County D.A.’s office, as it appears to have escaped every public employee, elected official, and member of the news media who announced to the world that they hate Scott Walker and want him removed from office.

(That sound you hear is the sound of minds changing about government budget cuts of any percentage up to and including 100 percent. If government employees aren’t working for you, why should government employ them?)

That brings an interesting (at least to me) point to mind. As I’ve pointed out before, it’s not as if election-related petitions being public records are a recent development. Petitions on behalf of candidates or referenda have been public records since at least the 1970s, when the Open Records Law and Open Meetings Law became law. Petitions to get candidates or referenda on the ballot have been open to the opponents of the potential candidates or referenda for the obvious reason of getting invalid signatures off petitions. This has not only been the law for a long time; it’s not even been controversial before now. That’s why one of the first rules of running a campaign is to get as many signatures close to the maximum as possible, not merely enough to meet the statutory minimums, in case of invalid signatures.

One therefore wonders if a future Legislature or legislator will seek to remove ballot petitions from the Open Records Law. (Or, perhaps more expediently, to find a circuit judge — and here are some possibilities — to rule that the Open Records Law does not apply to ballot petitions.) The line of reasoning, I suppose, could parrot the claims of petition signers who were surprised to discover that their signatures are public record — that since voting is a private activity, petition-signing should be too.

The logical consequence of election-related petitions no longer being public records is that ballot access laws will necessarily be invalid, and anyone who want to get on a ballot, or anyone who wants a referendum on a ballot, will have to have the right to do so. (The latter pretty much describes California.)

While the right to petition is part of the U.S. Constitution, there is no right to political activity outside of public eyes, other than voting. (Note the signatures on the Declaration of Independence a decade before the Constitution became the law of the land, and you can conclude that the Founding Fathers intended no private political rights besides voting.)  And there is no reading whatsoever of the First Amendment to shield those using their constitutional rights to express themselves from the consequences of their actions.


The 21st century civil war

Tim Nerenz on the latest Democrat gubernatorial recall candidate, Milwaukee Mayor (and 2010 gubernatorial election loser) Tom Barrett:

Mr. Barrett says he will put an end to the “civil war” that Governor Walker started in this state.  That’s funny stuff. There is indeed a civil war being waged, but it is not confined to the state of Wisconsin, and it did not begin when Governor Walker was sworn in.  He was sworn in after one of its battles was won; he is one of victory’s spoils.

Our second civil war is national, state, and local – it is the struggle between the taxpayers and the tax-eaters; it is the state and its wards versus the people who create the wealth and pay the bills.  It may look like the usual Democrat/Republican scrum to those who can’t see beyond; but those brands merely attached themselves to the side they hope will prevail. …

We have hit the wall.  A shrinking base of taxpayers has had enough of doing the heavy lifting for an increasingly ungrateful segment of society obsessed with taking an even bigger share of our incomes in order to obtain through state confiscation the things they refuse to purchase for themselves.

That is not a hateful thing to say; it is merely an observation that anyone can make for themselves any day of the week.  If a kid with the latest fashions and hottest sneakers listening to his iPod while gaming over the internet doesn’t have a sandwich, the guilt trip should not be laid at some other working family because they didn’t pay enough tax.

So please, Mr. Barrett, tell us how you propose to end this civil war?

Will you tell the tax-eaters they must live within their means and pay their fair share?  Or will you tell the taxpayers to be grateful you have left us with any of what we earned?  A war ends when one side wins and the other side surrenders – which America do you think is ready to throw in the towel because you have decided it’s time?

This is not about Mayor Barrett, or Governor Walker, or President Obama.  This is about you.  This is about your liberty, your family, your prosperity, your future.  Our civil war needs to be won – not with bullets and blood, but with ballots and blogs.  And it needs to be fought now, while we can still talk with each other, not later, when desperation moves people to violence.

No one ever thought they would be killing each other in Greece, either.  That’s where we are headed if we do not stop pretending that the same socialism that failed everywhere else in the world will somehow work here.  It hasn’t, and it won’t.

Before Barrett gets the nomination, of course, he will have to explain how and why he opposed, then used, the collective bargaining reforms pushed for by Walker and enacted by the Legislature.

Presty the DJ for April 10

The number one single today in 1965:

The number one album today in 1976 was Peter Frampton’s “Frampton Comes Alive,” the best selling live album in rock music history:

The number one album today in 1993 was Depeche Mode’s “Songs of Faith and Devotion”:

Birthdays start with one-hit wonder Sheb Wooley:

Nathaniel Nelson of the Flamingos:

Bobby Smith of the Spinners:

Karl Russell of the Hues Corporation …

… was born the same day as Bunny Livingston, vocalist and percussionist of Bob Marley and the Wailers:

Dave Peverett of Foghat:

Brian Setzer of the Stray Cats and his own orchestra, and having each means you can copy yourself …

… was born the same day as Katrina Leskanich of Katrina and the Waves:

Two deaths of note today: Chuck Willis in 1958 …

… and Little Eva Boyd in 2003: