Thursday, June 28, 2007

Court rules bill draft not subject to open records law

Allowing lawmakers to keep bill drafts from public view is at "the very core of the legislature's essential role in government," a Dane County judge ruled Wednesday.

Judge David Flanagan wrote in his ruling that legislative proposals prior to introduction are drafts under state statute and not subject to Wisconsin's Open Records Law.

Then-Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager sued state Rep. Scott Gunderson, R-Waterford, and then-state Sen. Dave Zien, R-Eau Claire, after they initially withheld drafts of concealed carry legislation that had been shared with organizations who supported the proposal. Flanagan rejected that argument.

He ruled that the suit against Zien was moot because his office turned over the entire Legislative Reference Bureau file to Lautenschlager on May 3, 2006, and ruled in favor of Gunderson on the merits.

Gunderson said the suit was "imperative in order to protect the institutional integrity of the Legislature both for today and for the future.”

“This ruling reinforces exactly what Senator Zien and I have said from the very beginning; the document that former Attorney General Lautenschlager was attempting to acquire was a draft, and not subject to an open records request,” Gunderson said.

Lautenschlager, who is now in private practice in Madison, called the decision "an assault on the public record's law."

"Public records should belong to the public," said Lautenschlager, who said she is reviewing possible avenues for appeal.

Zien lawyer Thomas Pyper said he was confident the decision would withstand any appeals.

"I guess we always thought this was an unprecedented attempt [by Lautenschlager] to change the rules of the proceeding of the Legislature," he said.

See the ruling:
http://www.wispolitics.com/1006/070627_Zien_decision.pdf

Read Gunderon's
http://www.wispolitics.com/index.iml?Article=99084

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Sunday, June 24, 2007

Plea deal means Troha ready for 'wide-ranging' cooperation

Kenosha businessman Dennis Troha will cooperate with federal investigators in what his attorney called a "wide-ranging field of interests" as part of a plea deal that includes two misdemeanor counts for exceeding campaign contribution limits to the Democratic Party and President Bush.

Troha, who had been charged with felony wire fraud and making false statements to the FBI, faces up to two years in prison and a $200,000 fine under the deal filed June 22.

Troha attorney Frank Gimbel said he did not know what other areas federal prosecutors wanted to pursue, nor whether his client would testify before a grand jury.

But Gimbel said he was happy with the deal, which was spurred in part by a federal appeals court ruling overturning Georgia Thompson's conviction.

"I think it's an outstanding deal," Gimbel said. "It puts closure on the case, and it limits his sanctions and he can go on with his life without the impediments that might have grown out of a felony conviction."

U.S. Attorney Steve Biskupic said the mail fraud charge originally filed against Troha would have been vulnerable to a legal attack after the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in the Thompson case. He said that helped spur talks that led to the agreement.

Biskupic declined to say what information Troha could provide for his ongoing investigation or whether the focus was on the state or federal level.

Troha's deal gives him immunity from future prosecution if he cooperates. Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen and Dane County District Attorney Brian Blanchard agreed as part of the deal that the charges would resolve any state violations by Troha as well.

The deal includes a promise that no other immediate Troha family member would be charged for the conduct alleged in the indictment.

Troha stressed in a statement that the charges in the deal were "less egregious" than the original indictment.

"It is important to me that this case be resolved now," Troha said. "Over the past several months, things have been said and written about me that, in many cases, have been wrong and unfair. As difficult as this has been for me and my family, I have refrained from reacting publicly."

Previously, Biskupic has acknowledged federal investigators were reviewing a deal in which Troha was to be paid by his former trucking company through 2010 because Congress approved legislation helping the firm. Several congressmen who pushed the measure received donations from Troha and his family. They include U.S. Reps. Don Young, R-Alaska, James Oberstar, D-Minn., and Paul Ryan, R-Janesville.

A state DOT official also acknowledged earlier this year that he had a meeting scheduled with the FBI over efforts by Gov. Jim Doyle's administration in helping Troha's trucking company lower tax bills levied in other states. DOT officials have denied any wrongdoing.

"Things are always fluid," Biskupic said. "Information that may lead one direction today may change tomorrow.

"It's not fair to single out particular people who haven't been charged. Everyone else is presumed innocent."

According to the plea deal, Troha donated the maximum $5,000 to the federal account of the Democratic Party and then provided money to family members to make donations in their names as part of a conspiracy to exceed donation limits. Troha believed the money would help Doyle's gubernatorial campaign, according to the plea deal.

Troha admitted to a similar scheme to benefit Bush's campaign. He made the maximum $2,000 donation to the president and then gave money to various family members to do the same, according to the deal.

The illegal federal contributions exceeded $30,000 but were less than $70,000.

The original indictment mentioned the donations to the Democratic Party and discussed a scheme to funnel money through family members to Doyle's campaign. Biskupic said investigators began looking at other federal contributions as new information came in following the indictment that led to the charge for donations to Bush.

DPW Chairman Joe Wineke issued a statement saying the plea deal showed the state party had done nothing wrong. Even so, the party pledged to make a contribution "equivalent to those received five years ago" to the state Boys and Girls Club.

"We encourage the Bush campaign to do the same," Wineke said. This afternoon the Dem Party was still trying to determine an appropriate amount to donate.

*See the plea deal:
http://www.wispolitics.com/1006/070622TrohaPlea.pdf

*See the DOJ release:
http://www.wispolitics.com/1006/070622TrohaDOJ.pdf

*See Troha's statement:
http://www.wispolitics.com/index.iml?Article=98632

*See the DPW release:
http://www.wispolitics.com/1006/large/070622_Wineke_statement.pdf

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Friday, June 22, 2007

Prosecutors detail ten more charges against McGee

Prosecutors detailed 10 new charges against Milwaukee Ald. Michael McGee Jr. in court today on top of the previous counts for an alleged shakedown and beating plots filed against him.

The new charges related to a John Doe investigation into the recall election he survived earlier this year include a felony charge of making a false statement to an election official, two felony counts of election bribery, one felony count of being party to the crime of election bribery, one felony count of filing a false campaign finance report, a misdemeanor count of electioneering, one misdemeanor count of theft by a bailee and three misdemeanor counts of criminal contempt.

Milwaukee County DA John Chisholm said all of the charges are interrelated and show "a deliberate pattern on Mr. McGee's part to subvert the electoral, and quite frankly, the judicial process in the course of his conduct."

McGee's attorney, Glenn Givens, argued this morning that the prosecution’s complaint failed to provide enough evidence to warrant charges. Judge Dennis P. Moroney disagreed, denying Givens' motion to dismiss on all counts.

The felony counts each carry a maximum of three years, six months in prison, two years of which can be served on probation, along with fines up to $10,000. The misdemeanor penalties vary and include fines of less than $10,000 and jail sentences of less than a year.

Because the charges are still under seal, details are scant. But according to statements by the defense and prosecution this morning:

- The false statement charge stems from McGee telling Milwaukee election commissioners during a hearing on the recall attempt against him that he was misled into signing his own recall petition. Chisholm said in court this morning that witnesses testified that McGee signed the petition as an "act of bravado."

- The election bribery charges stem from an alleged scheme to pay people to vote during the recall. Two others are facing similar charges.

- The electioneering count is due to McGee showing up to a polling place on election day with his own campaign literature. Givens said McGee was simply there to pick somebody up, and when he was asked by an election inspector to hand over the materials, he did. McGee was not on the ballot.

- The theft and campaign finance reporting charges relate to checks allegedly intended for the campaign being cashed at a grocery store and never recorded in finance reports.

- McGee is accused of contempt for allegedly revealing information about the substance of John Doe investigation following his testimony during that investigation. Givens said the conversations were just McGee "blowing off steam" and didn't reveal substantive details of the testimony.

"You can draw all the reasonable inferences you want," Givens said about the prosecution's account, "but you need some facts to draw those reasonable inferences from; and there are none."

Chisholm argued, however, that those conversations were substantive, and were made immediately following an interview with McGee in the investigation that clued McGee in that he was the focus of the investigation that he originally initiated by filing a complaint against his recall opponent, ViAnna Jordan.

See the charges: http://www.wispolitics.com/1006/070622McGeeComplaint.pdf

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Friday, June 15, 2007

Georgia Thompson files claim with the state

Department of Administration employee Georgia Thompson filed a claim with the state eeking reimbursement for nearly $360,000 in costs stemming from her prosecution and conviction on bid-rigging charges.

Thompson, who was rehired by DOA after the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals threw out her conviction in early April, seeks more than $206,000 in legal fees, $130,000 in taxes due on those fees and more than $14,000 in costs and disbursements. The claim also seeks just less than $10,000 for fines paid, preparation of her claim and assessments.

Thompson has already paid more than $162,000 of the legal fees owed, according to the claim.

"Reimbursement of a state employee's legal fees in a case such as this is appropriate and just," Thompson's lawyers write in the claim. "Payment will not undo the emotional trauma of such charges and wrongful incarceration, but it will help her put the pieces back together."

Thompson served four months of an 18-month sentence after her conviction by a Milwaukee jury for steering a state travel contract toward Adelman Travel. The case, prosecuted by U.S. Attorney Steven Biskupic, became the subject of Congressional hearings in the subsequent scandal over U.S. Attorney firings by the Dept. of Justice.

At the time of her acquittal by the federal court, Gov. Doyle indicated that Thompson would be eligible for reimbursement by the state for her legal fees.

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Friday, June 01, 2007

DA: McGee discussed killing man

Milwaukee Ald. Michael McGee and two others discussed killing a man over a burglary before settling on a beating instead, the Milwaukee County DA charged in court Wednesday.

But McGee attorney Glen Givens said prosecutors misunderstood street language the three men used, saying that language like "bust up and beat down" indicated at best a misdemeanor battery.

"You have to look at who's using the language, what community it comes from before you can draw conclusions about what it is that's being communicated," Givens said.

The details emerged in a court hearing over whether to unseal details of state felony charges of solicitation to commit substantial battery and conspiracy to commit substantial battery.

Milwaukee County DA John Chisholm, who would go along with unsealing the charges, said intercepted phone calls provide "proof beyond a reasonable doubt" that McGee played a supervisory role in a conspiracy that intended to inflict at least substantial battery on the man, if not worse. Chisholm said he elected the lighter charge because a later conversation clarified that it was not to be a killing, but "a busting up, a beat down."

He said McGee, Dimitrius Jackson and Little Stewart used language at one point like "peeling his wig back," and "sew his cap together," to describe what they wanted done to the man. Chisholm also said a wiretap recorded McGee saying at one point "that (n-word) needs some quicksand."

"I don't have a degree in Sopranos, but that's pretty direct evidence of escalating things to a pretty serious level," Chisholm said.

McGee is being held on $100,000 bail, which Judge Dennis P. Moroney reduced from $250,000 today.

McGee faces up to 3 years, six months in prison and a $10,000 fine on each of the state charges. He was charged yesterday with federal charges of bribery and extortion, for which he faces up to 30 years in prison and a $500,000 fine.

Moroney said the state's complaint and evidence will remain under seal until all parties agree to open them or testimony about them is provided in open court.

McGee and Jackson appeared in court today. Stewart was not present. The next hearing is scheduled for June 5, at 1:30 p.m.

At least 50 supporters of McGee packed the courtroom and hallway.

Listen to audio from today's proceedings:
http://www.wispolitics.com/1006/2007_05_30_McGee.mp3

In addition, a campaign worker for Milwaukee Ald. Michael McGee has been charged with paying people $5 to vote in this spring's recall election.

Garrett Huff faces up to 3.5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

See the criminal complaint:
http://www.wispolitics.com/1006/070531HuffComplaint.pdf

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