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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Gableman surrogates don't know how to Google

by folkbum (note updates--and see additional post here)

The righties have been giddy the last couple of days over a complaint (.pdf) filed with the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board by Bob "What Hoppened" Dohnal. The complaint seems to revolve around the fact that, for many years, Justice Louis Butler listed as his campaign address the address of a Milwaukee law firm, one of whose partners, John D. Finerty, was, for those same years, his campaign's treasurer. (This has not been true for much of the last cycle--at least as far back as I have emails from the Butler campaign.)

Whether or not this complaint has real merit remains to be seen--the fact that Finerty seems to have volunteered his time and the Butler campaign has paid the law firm a small sum to, I assume, cover the costs of what little time others at the firm may have spent sorting the Butler campaign mail, for example, into the right box for Finerty to deal with on his own time to me suggest some smoke but no fire. Of greater concern is the notion that Butler may have heard cases from attorneys at the firm without notice to other parties involved. However, this seems only truly damning if attorneys other than John D. Finerty were involved in the campaign, or if Finerty himself had cases before Butler. The former is not easily proved--guilt by association is weak circumstantial evidence--so if the latter could be proved true, there would be your smoking gun. (UPDATE: Attorney Jeremy Levinson also has done work for the Butler campaign, and, according to a campaign source, Butler has recused himself from some of Levinson's cases.)

Among the groups championing this line of attack is the Wisconsin Club for Growth. It was apparently the subject of their Wednesday "email update." I don't get their emails (believe me, I get enough spam promising "growth"), but Brian Fraley was kind enough to repost the whole thing on his blog. WICFG included this list of "evidence" in the case against Butler:
• The fact that the Friebert law firm served as Butler’s campaign headquarters since 1999.

• The fact that Butler’s own campaign stationery used the Friebert office as its official address, to accept campaign contributions and other campaign-related mail

• The fact that the Friebert law firm used its own stationery to file documents relating to the Butler campaign.

• The list of cases before the Supreme Court that involved Friebert attorneys, including John Finerty, Butler’s own campaign treasurer.
None of that evidence indicates that a single attorney besides Finerty worked on or for Butler's campaign (some, though not all, have given the Butler campaign money). But it's that last bullet point that would be the mushroom cloud of evidence here, right? That the Wisconsin Supreme Court heard cases brought by one of their own Justices' (former) campaign treasurers would be damning indeed. And, in fact, if you click on the .pdf document that the last bullet point originally linked to, you find a long list of SCOWI cases, grouped by attorney, including two different habeus corpus filings in the case of Sandra Lea Benedict v. Eau Claire Area School District under the name of attorney John D. Finerty.

Bang! Boom! Crash! Case closed! QED! Or, perhaps, ROTFLMAO. See, had Club for Growth done a cursory Googling, they would have found that Benedict was filed not by John D. Finerty, Sr., of the Friebert, Finerty, & St. John law offices, but rather John D. Finerty, Jr., of Michael Best & Friedrich--who lists the case prominently on his biography page.

John D. Finerty, Jr., has never, to the best I can find, worked for Justice Butler, nor has he ever even given Butler a penny in campaign contributions.

I know Wisconsin Club for Growth has the internet--they send out emails, apparently--so why they couldn't do that search, I don't know.

So all that's left is the circumstantial: One attorney at Friebert, Finerty, & St. John volunteered his time as Justice Butler's campaign treasurer, and has not set foot in the Supreme Court to argue in front of Butler and crew. The Butler campaign has paid Freibert for clerical time spent. No other Friebert attorneys' names seem to be associated with the campaign beyond routine contributions, easily found through WDC, something any opposing attorney could find in his sleep and raise at trial if necessary. (I would prefer had Butler disclosed it--though were every Justice to disclose every time a contributing attorney appeared before them, parties could be stuck at the courthouse for hours just listening to the disclosures. What I'd really prefer is public financing of court elections!)

(Update: The exception, as noted above, is that Jeremy Levinson has also done work for Butler, but Butler did recuse himself in some cases. I'm trying to sort out now whether any of the cases Butler recused himself from still made WICFG's list. At any rate, their key piece of evidence in the press release and their "email update" is Finerty--but they've got the wrong Finerty.

FURTHER UPDATE: The more I read CFG's list, the more it looks like sloppy work all the way around. For example, the list looks long because they have listed the same cases multiple times if more than one attorney may be associated with it. Also, many of the cases listed, when you check them out on the pages of wiscourts do not actually have attorneys from Friebert, Finerty, & St. John listed on the case. More to come as I keep looking.)

I don't make the final judgments, of course, but Dohnal's track record of complaints lately is poor and the "evidence" for this one seems thin where it is not outright false. This seems to me more like a last-minute ploy to generate negative press right before an election, rather than anything serious.

UPDATE: Attempts to contact the Wisconsin Club For Growth using the email address provided on their "contact" page bounce back with a "no such recipient" error. If you wish to contact WICFG, you should instead use, which so far, at least, has not bounced.

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