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Wisconsin appeals court upholds former Walker aide's conviction for campaigning on county time

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MADISON, Wisconsin — One of Gov. Scott Walker's former key Milwaukee aides was properly convicted of campaigning on taxpayers' time, a divided state appeals court ruled Wednesday.

Kelly Rindfleisch served as Walker's deputy chief of staff when Walker was the Milwaukee County executive. Prosecutors accused her of working on Walker's gubernatorial campaign and Republican Brett Davis's lieutenant governor campaign out of her county office.

She was one of six people convicted in a so-called John Doe investigation into Walker's former aides and associates that ran from May 2010, six months before Walker was elected governor, to February 2012. Walker was not charged.

Rindfleisch ultimately pleaded guilty in October 2012 to one felony count of misconduct in office in a deal with prosecutors. Milwaukee County Circuit Judge David Hansher sentenced her to six months in jail and three years of probation a month later, but he stayed the sentenced pending appeal.

Rindfleisch argued before the 1st District Court of Appeals that Hansher should have suppressed evidence against her that investigators obtained in her emails.

She said investigators stated in search warrants that they needed her emails to see if Tim Russell, then Walker's chief of staff, had broken the law. Russell ultimately was sentenced to two years in prison for stealing more than $20,000 from a nonprofit group that Walker appointed him to lead.

Rindfleisch maintained that the warrants were too broad and violated her constitutional right to be free of unreasonable searches because the documents allowed investigators to sift through all of her personal communications to see what related to their probe.

The appeals court ruled 2-1 that the warrants were constitutional. A judge signed them, they laid out probable cause for a search and they specifically described the email accounts investigators wanted to search, Judge Joan F. Kessler wrote. Investigators often have to separate documents from others that don't pertain to their cases, she added.

Judge Ralph Adam Fine was the lone dissenter. He wrote that the U.S. Constitution prohibits the government from searching through someone's voluminous files looking for evidence against someone else and then "rooting" around those files to see if the subject of the search warrant also violated the law.

Rindfleisch's attorney, Franklyn Gimbel, said he was disappointed by the decision and would ask the state Supreme Court to review the case. Rindfleisch will remain free until the high court decides not to hear the case or upholds the ruling.

The probe into Walker's county associates gave rise to a second John Doe investigation into whether Walker's 2012 recall campaign illegally coordinated with conservative groups. That investigation is on hold after the state judge overseeing it stopped it in January. Prosecutors have appealed that decision to the state Supreme Court.

A John Doe investigation is Wisconsin's version of a grand jury probe where information is tightly controlled and investigators go about their work in secret.


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