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Wisconsin Supreme Court cancels oral arguments for cases involving Walker recall probe

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MADISON, Wisconsin — The Wisconsin Supreme Court on Friday canceled next month's oral arguments on three cases related to the secret investigation into Gov. Scott Walker's 2012 recall campaign and said it will decide the issues based only on written filings.

The court had scheduled arguments for April 17 and April 20. But in its order late Friday afternoon the court said, "it is neither legally nor practically possible to hold oral argument."

The three cases relate to a John Doe investigation into whether conservative groups illegally coordinated with Walker's recall campaign in 2012.

Unnamed parties have filed two lawsuits challenging the probe's validity. Prosecutors have filed another action seeking to reinstate quashed subpoenas that halted the investigation more than a year ago.

The arguments before the Supreme Court, which are routinely open to the public, were expected to be awkward, given that much information remains shielded from public view, including names of petitioners.

The court had asked attorneys for everyone involved to come up with a plan for proceeding. They had suggested that public affairs network WisconsinEye could broadcast the arguments on a delay so secret information could be deleted out. But WisconsinEye wouldn't agree to that.

The court said Friday it was "strongly adverse" to closing the courtroom to the public but that it would be impossible to protect the secrecy of the cases during a back and forth with justices and attorneys in oral arguments.

Instead, written filings will be made public with some material redacted.

"In this unique situation, this is the best way we can achieve transparency in the handling of these matters while the underlying John Doe investigation remains pending," the court said in its 4-2 order.

Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson and Justice David Prosser both dissented. Abrahamson said the decision was part of a "broader pattern of excluding the public from the John Doe cases under review." Prosser said he wanted to hold the arguments privately, then release a redacted recording, transcript and video to ensure no secret information was revealed.

The court also rejected a request by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel to intervene and upheld an earlier ruling by the judge who oversaw the probe keeping secret much of the material related to the investigation.

Justice Ann Walsh Bradley, who recused herself from considering the case because her son works for a law firm involved, did not participate in Friday's orders.


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