Susan Happ cleared of smear, hapless Republicans spread another | WisCommunity

Susan Happ cleared of smear, hapless Republicans spread another

When it comes to Republican scandal-mongering, the case is never closed. Answer one GOP charge and the party mouthpieces simply skip off to the next "scandal" they pretend to have uncovered, which is often a theme-and-variation riff on their original screed. It happened again after Jefferson County District Attorney Susan Happ, Democratic candidate for attorney general, was cleared this month of wrongdoing in a case investigated by an office of the state Supreme Court.
 
On October 10, the court's Office of Lawyer Regulation dismissed a complaint against Happ filed by a victim of accused molester Daniel J. Reynolds. In the complaint, the victim alleged that Reynolds benefited from a land deal involving Happ and her husband, who in 2009 sold property to  Reynolds under a $180,000 land contract that was paid off in 2012. After that, the Happ case came to the Jefferson District Attorney's office. Reynolds was charged in 2013. Earlier this year, the DA's office and Reynolds reached a deferred prosecution agreement. In the subsequently filed complaint, Reynolds' victim claimed Happ failed to shift the Reynolds case from her office to a special prosecutor, and that Happ signed charging documents against Reynolds.

Waukesha County District Attorney Brad Schimel, Happ's Republican opponent in the attorney general race, jumped all over this series of events, saying Happ should have handed the case off to a special prosecutor to avoid a conflict of interest. He ran a "Happ-Reynolds timeline" on his campaign web site. Never mind that Schimel didn't take his own advice but followed the same process as Happ when he had to decide how to handle a sexual assault case against Republican State Rep. Bill Kramer, who had given a campaign contribution to Schimel.

In reaction to all this, Politifact Wisconsin labeled "false" a Wisconsin Republican Party claim that Happ "took $180,000" from Reynolds before "she offered him a deferred prosecution." Happ was involved in a legal land sale before the case ever came up, Politifact said, but she did not offer him deferred prosecution.

Investigator Cathe Hahn of the Office of Lawyer Regulation essentially agreed. Officially replying to the victim's complaint in an Oct. 10 letter, Hahn cited a pretty clear explanation of how Happ, like other state DAs, followed proper procedure:

"You expressed concerns District Attorney Happ had a conflict of interest in the prosecution of Daniel Reynolds due to a real estate contractual relationship with Mr. Reynolds. Assistant District Attorney Monica Hall prosecuted Mr. Reynolds. Under Supreme Court Rule 20:1.11(f), any possible conflict of interest of Atty. Happ would not be imputed to other attorneys in her office, if Atty. Happ was timely screened from any participation in the case."

Hahn said case records showed that Happ was properly screened. But what of the complaint about Happ's signature appearing on the case summons document? Hahn's letter responded: "Ms. Happ's signature is computer-generated" and "she did not personally review or sign the document."

That's all pretty clear cut. Here's what's happened; here's the rule that applies to conflicts of interest related to that happening; no rule was violated; case closed. Right? Well, the complaint itself may be closed, unless there's an appeal, but going on seemingly forever is the Republican modus operandi of constantly changing the subject and raising new questions about imagined new scandals.

Because, almost immediately, Republicans began complaining that, in 2012, investigator Hahn's name appeared on a petition to recall Gov. Scott Walker. Never mind that, as a citizen of the state, Hahn has a constitutional right to sign such petitions. The GOP strongly implied Happ did ... something ... wrong. Maybe. State GOP director Joe Fadness said Hahn's name on the recall petition raises "important questions" about her investigation of the complaint against Happ. What "important" questions? Well, we didn't get clarity on that. But let's review a few points about the GOP's new line of attack.

First, this Republican tactic of making a recall petition signature a political issue has become a fairly routine ploy, and it's ridiculous. For one thing, Republicans obviously think it's perfectly fine to have Republicans handle legal cases involving Republicans -- as when they changed Wisconsin state law making it easy for themselves to go shopping for Republican-friendly judges whenever they get into legal trouble. Meanwhile, those same Republicans obviously think Democrats cannot fairly be involved in administering legal cases, period. Because, apparently, Democrats hold opinions while Republicans own the truth. Or something.

Moreover, Republicans for their own part are perfectly happy to rely on conservatively minded civil servants who agree with them, as when one Milwaukee cop years ago took it upon himself to write and publish an official-looking but unsanctioned "Milwaukee Police Department report" alleging massive voter fraud in the city. That triggered the GOP's fanatical campaign to enact Voter ID legislation, which the party's lawmakers pursued to enactment, despite later, more balanced studies that showed the report was not only an unauthorized, unvetted, isolated work and not some official, carefully prepared study, but it was just plain factually wrong.

It's not illegal nor often even a conflict of interest to express an opinion, especially when it comes to sharing your political opinion or exercising your right to vote -- although Republicans want voters to think that's wholly forbidden. After all, what, by the GOP standard, are to we to make of elections officials, state or local, who are registered voters? Their work is nonpartisan, but their personal views when they themselves are casting their own secret ballots certainly are partisan, if not knowable to the public. Maybe Republicans will next insist upon denying voting rights to election staffers (unconstitutional though that would be), on the basis that some of those staffers might vote Democratic. At least, that is, until those Republicans feel they can safely pack the elections system with partisan staffers, which they've already suggested they may do.

The parallel to this whole non-issue can be found in journalism, where no competent student of the craft really thinks "objectivity" is possible. Rather, journalists are taught to strive for fairness, and to follow basic ethics rules of the craft in their conduct. For instance, if you're writing a story about a liquor store, or even if you aren't, you don't take gifts from the liquor store. That doesn't mean you don't get to have opinions about drinking, or that paticualr liquor store; it just means you have to properly referee your work life and your individual rights, as Happ did, and Schimel before her.

Meanwhile, however, politicians, many of them Republican, are too often to be found taking gifts for themselves or their campaigns, sometimes legally but not always ethically. And when they get into trouble for it, their first instinct is to relax the laws against such behavior, and to pardon themselves retroactively, if only via rhetoric.

Ironically, when the letter concerning the Happ complaint was released to the public, the complainant's identity was "redacted" -- blanked out, in other words. Which is in itself reasonable, since the complainant was a molestation victim of Reynolds.

However, the examiner in the case then took heat because her name showed up on the Wisconsin recall petitions against Gov. Scott Walker. Those petitions now make for a handy black list Republicans use over and over to smear opponents or intimidate voters. Meanwhile, dark-money political campaign donors [the great majority of them backing Republican causes] have been given conservative-backed court protections allowing them to remain anonymous. Which is one very big reason why Susan Happ would make a far better attorney general than Brad Schimel.

Published

October 19, 2014 - 12:13pm

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