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Illinois revenue bill taxes most everything but strip clubs

Wed, 01/25/2017 - 16:48

The Land of Lincoln is the Land of Taxes.

The state that brought the world the Great Emancipator it seems will tax anything standing (or sitting or stretching or sleeping) – with the exception of live nude dancing.

LAND OF TAXES: A new amendment to Illinois’ revenue bill in the General Assembly calls for a litany of new taxes.

On Tuesday, State Sen. Toi Hutchinson, D-Chicago Heights, filed new language to Senate Bill 9, aka the Senate’s revenue omnibus bill.

SB 9 is part of a package of 13 bills making its way through the Illinois General Assembly, according to a report by the Illinois Chamber of Commerce.

The proposal calls for the removal of Illinois’ controversial soda tax proposal to be replaced by the Business Opportunity Tax Act. The tax would be imposed on businesses based on staffing numbers. Beginning July 1, 2017, a tax would be imposed on qualified businesses for the “privilege of doing business in the state.” The bigger the business, of course, the steeper the tax – from $225 to $15,000.

The bill also would raise the corporate income tax rate to 7 percent and personal income tax rate to 4.99 percent. It establishes “service taxes” on storage businesses, amusements, repair and maintenance, landscaping, and laundry and dry-cleaning services.

And, just what business and consumers have been clamoring for, a tax on cable television services and direct broadcast satellite services.

Particular adult services, however, would get a pass under the bill.

The bill would repeal the Adult Entertainment Tax, effective Jan. 1, 2018.

Operators of live adult entertainment facilities – strip clubs – would no longer have to pay the tax. Illinois charges operators a surcharge amounting to $3 per person entering the establishment.

Inspection: Milwaukee County Jail meets all state standards

Wed, 01/25/2017 - 12:47

MILWAUKEE – Conservative Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. has picked up plenty of critics and political enemies in liberal Milwaukee.

But the outspoken sheriff runs an excellent jail, according to the latest Wisconsin Department of Corrections inspection of the Milwaukee County Jail.

CLEAN BILL OF HEALTH: Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke has been skewered by his political enemies for his management of the Milwaukee County Jail. A new state inspection report says the jail under Clarke’s leadership is meeting all corrections standards.

The 2016 annual inspection was conducted Dec. 8-9, and the inspection report was released two weeks later.

“You and your staff should be commended for the work being accomplished at the facility to ensure the safety and security of the jail and residents of Milwaukee County,” Gregory A. Bucholtz, inspector at the DOC’s Office of Detention Facilities, wrote to Clarke in the Dec. 22 report, obtained by Wisconsin Watchdog.

The 31-page inspection document is replete with positive findings. The county jail, which houses some 970 inmates, meets nearly every DOC standard, with the exception of a couple of areas noted as “Meets Standard” and “Needs Improvement.” Such categories, including providing adequate inmate exercise and recreation time outside their cells or outdoors, appears to be beyond the jail’s control.

“Inmates in general population have sufficient amounts of time out of their cells. However, inmates are currently being lockdown in their cells between 5:45pm and 6:00pm due to staffing shortages,” the report states.

That is a funding priorities problem, and such matters are in the hands of Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele and the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors, many of whom have been sharply critical of Clarke’s overseeing of the jail.

Bucholtz notes the lockdown of inmates at 6 p.m., “inhibits those whose family members work during the day to receive telephone calls or video visits.”

“According to jail administration, this practice was implemented due to a lack of staffing. However, this office was informed that the practice would be discontinued early in 2017 because of the hiring of more security staff,” the inspector wrote.

A follow-up internal note from Milwaukee County Jail Inspector Richard Schmidt states:

“This is a correct statement. Human Resources has not provided quality candidates for the Correctional Officer position. Sheriff’s Office administrators have meet many times with the County Executive’s Human Resource Staff to address the extremely poor quality of the candidates and the lack of aggressive advertisement by the County for Correctional Officers.”

The report does not note the four deaths, including three inmates and a stillborn baby, at the jail in 2016.

But Clarke’s political enemies sure have.

Milwaukee politicians have called for Clarke’s head in the wake of the deaths, even as autopsy reports and other investigative documents note the inmates were very unhealthy people at the time of their passing.

RELATED: Amid Milwaukee politics, autopsy shows inmate died of natural causes

This week, state Rep. David Crowley, D-Milwaukee, asked Gov. Scott Walker to remove the sheriff from office. Walker has said that is a decision for voters.

“The duty bestowed upon law-enforcement officers is to protect and serve. Unfortunately, that is not what the Sheriff of Milwaukee County is most concerned with,” Crowley wrote.

Crowley accused Clarke of “willful neglect of duties.” The politician also took aim at the sheriff’s “repeated inappropriate and incendiary comments, his promotion of violence, and use of intimidation against innocent civilians.”

CLARKE CRITIC: State Rep. David Crowley, D-Milwaukee, is the latest liberal politician to call for Sheriff David Clarke’s job.

The latter charges relate to a complaint filed against Clarke by a Milwaukee man who claims the sheriff illegally detained him at Milwaukee’s airport after the plane landed. Dan Black alleges he merely expressed his disapproval about Clarke wearing Dallas Cowboys gear on the day the Green Bay Packers beat the Cowboys in an NFL playoff game.

The encounter, according to the complaint, occurred during boarding for a flight from Dallas to Milwaukee.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Clarke did not view the interaction as harmless. In a Facebook post, the sheriff said he “reserves the reasonable right to pre-empt possible assault.”

Following widespread media accounts of the incident and subsequent complaint, The Sheriff’s Department’s Facebook page posted a meme showing an image of Black and a message: “Cheer up, snowflake. If Sheriff Clarke were to really harass you, you wouldn’t be around to whine about it.”

While those confrontational comments may not help his cause with his powerful political enemies in Milwaukee County, the criticism on Clarke’s handling of the jail deaths in many cases is uninformed and erroneous. Clarke, a conservative who runs as a Democrat, asserts the attacks are politically motivated by people who have long wanted to drive him out of the sheriff’s office, now more than ever because of his support of Republican President Donald Trump.

As Wisconsin Watchdog has detailed in recent investigative reports, many of Clarke’s critics, particularly the mainstream media, have left out the fact the three inmates who died at the jail were some very unhealthy people dealing with the ramifications of drug abuse and serious physical illnesses.

A final autopsy obtained by Wisconsin Watchdog earlier this month showed the most recent inmate death was the result of natural causes — acute heart disease. The medical examiner’s report showed the inmate had history of drug abuse and problems from mitral valve prolapse.

“Two inmates suffered from severe cardiac disease, which became critical when coupled with the effects of hardcore drug usage prior to their incarceration, with their extensive drug histories independently noted in their death investigations,” Clarke said in a previous Wisconsin Watchdog story.

The criticism and reporting has failed to focus on Wisconsin’s other county jails — where inmate deaths and death rates are as high or higher.

As of mid-December, there were 20 inmate deaths in Wisconsin’s jails, nine of those suicides, in 2016, according to Department of Corrections statistics.

The Milwaukee County Jail has recorded four deaths in two years, all of them in a six-month span.

The smaller Brown County Jail in Green Bay has experienced three inmate deaths over the past two years; two were in 2016; both of those suicides. Outagamie County’s corrections facility in Appleton also has recorded three deaths over the period.

Dane and Waukesha county jails each have recorded three deaths since 2015. Little Monroe County, with an average inmate population of 111, documented two deaths over the period.

In Kenosha County, there have been nine inmate suicides since 2013.

The latest jail inspection notes the Milwaukee County Jail meets every standard in dealing with suicidal inmates.

“Policies and procedures are in place for the supervision and housing of inmates with suicidal ideation,” the inspection document notes.

“Procedures are in place for officers to notify supervisory staff of an inmate needing to be placed on suicide watch. Medical and Mental Health are also immediately notified. Specific housing is in place for those placed on a suicide watch. Physical security checks are being completed at least every 15 minutes at irregular intervals. Documentation is also being maintained.”

Ultimately, while the sheriff oversees the jail, the private health care provider responsible for assessing and monitoring the health of inmates is bound by a county contract. Abele, not Clarke, is charged with handling the private provider.

Any main point of concern, according to the inspection report, lies in facility and staff needs.

“Yet as noted last year, given the age, size and inmate population (939 on first day of inspection), it continues to be recommended that priority be given to the establishment of a full-time facilities manager position at the jail, similar to what is provided at the House of Correction,” the inspector wrote. “As stated in last year’s report, the timeliness to correct maintenance needs within the jail should not be underestimated in terms of maintaining a safe and secure environment for inmates, staff and the community.”

Wisconsin lawmakers seek change in federal-state relationship

Tue, 01/24/2017 - 23:26

MADISON, Wis. – Two conservative state lawmakers are calling on their congressional brethren to “give power and flexibility back to the states as intended by the Constitution.”

UNFUNDED MADNESS: State Sens. Dave Craig and Chris Kapenga think the time is right for reining in federal power and returning rights back to the states. Among the biggest problems, they say, are unfunded federal mandates and burdensome regulations.

On Friday, Sens. Dave Craig, R-Town of Vernon, and Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield, sent a letter to U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz  effectively calling for federal recognition of the Ninth and Tenth amendments.

Chaffetz chairs the House’s Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. The Utah Republican has been hearing a lot lately from Wisconsin conservatives seeking relief from seemingly endless federal regulations and unfunded mandates.

“As state policy-makers, we are consistently contacted by constituents and business leaders about the cost of compliance of unfunded mandates and burdensome federal regulations,” Craig and Kapenga wrote. “When developing policy solutions at the state level, we are continually stymied by federal rules preventing us from solving important problems.

“The most common area of burdensome regulations arise out of requirements tied to federal funding.”

The senators assert the “insidious use of federal funds” has tied the hands of state governments and businesses, robbing local control and increasing costs for compliance and delivery of services. More so, they argue, the divvying up federal dollars collected by taxpayers nationwide has expanded the size and scope of the bureaucracy at all levels “to the detriment of the private sector and taxpayers.”

“We would generally request that funding delegated back to the states be free from costly and burdensome restrictions so that Wisconsinites can achieve better schools, roads, and services for the dollar,” the lawmakers urge in their letter.

RELATED: Wisconsin could lead effort to restore states’ rights

Regulations, unfunded mandates and the burdens they place on state governments and the private sector have increased significantly over the past generation – but they have exploded during the past two presidential administrations.

More than 90,000 pages were added to the Federal Register during 2016, making last year’s list of federal rules and regs 10,000 pages longer than the previous record, according to a recent piece in Reason.com. Thirteen of the 15 longest registers in American history belong to Obama and George W. Bush administrations, with Obama claiming seven of the top eight spots, according to the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

“If Donald Trump’s incoming administration aims to reverse that worrying trend—something the president-elect has claimed to want to do—then it could use a helping hand from Congress,” wrote Reason’s Eric Boehm. “The growth of the regulatory state is inextricably linked to the expansion of the executive branch’s powers in recent decades, but those powers have expanded in part because congress has willingly winnowed its own authority.”

STATE-FEDERAL RESET: Sen. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield, chairs the Senate Senate Committee on Public Benefits, Licensing and State-Federal Relations.

A report last year by the conservative American Action Forum found that federal regulators had cost states almost $35 billion in unfunded mandates and some 75 million hours in onerous paperwork since Obama took office.

“This figure only examines the largest regulations that impose unfunded state mandates and there are doubtless other rules that impose costs on local governments that might not be counted in these data,” AAF’s report states.

The left-leaning group Public Citizen in a statement called AAF’s analysis “one-sided,” that it does not take into account the benefits of health and safety regulations.

There is a broader effect. Over-burdensome, even duplicative regulations stifle economy growth, business advocates say.

A 2014 National Association of Manufacturing report found the total cost of federal regulations topped $2 trillion in 2012. It has only risen since, experts say. The annual cost burden for an average U.S. firm was $233,182, or 21 percent of average payroll, the report stated. Federal regulations remain the top challenge facing the majority of U.S. firms.

With an ostensibly pro-reform Republican majority in Congress and a new president who campaigned on cutting regulations, Craig and Kapenga said they are “encouraged by the potential for real reforms to come from Washington.” Reining in the federal authority would “unshackle state and local officials to realize substantive savings and provide relief to taxpayers who have shouldered the tax burden of an overbearing federal government,” the state senators wrote in the letter to Chaffetz.

They said they also see great potential in block grant federal funding for the 150-plus federal welfare programs administered in Wisconsin.

“This would allow significant reduction in the federal bureaucracy and provide us the flexibility and freedom to implement policies that greater encourage work for those receiving public benefits,” the lawmakers write.

Gov. Scott Walker this week announced his “Wisconsin Works for Everyone” welfare reform package that, among other provisions, would require able-bodied adults – with children older than 6 – that receive FoodShare benefits and housing assistance to work at least 80 hours per month or participate in a job training program.

Walker will need federal approval before proceeding with plans to drug test FoodShare recipients, something he requested in a letter to President Donald Trump in December.

Earlier this month, State Rep. Andre Jacque, R-De Pere, sent a similar-themed letter to Chaffetz noting the costs and burdens of the federal prevailing wage law.

Latest document dump reminder of how abusive Wisconsin’s John Doe probe was

Tue, 01/24/2017 - 16:19
Part 383 of 382 in the series Wisconsin's Secret War

MADISON, Wis. – The state Supreme Court on Monday released hundreds of documents from Wisconsin’s infamous John Doe II investigation.

But after bold headline stories Friday announcing the pending release of previously sealed documents in the “Gov. Walker case,” the mainstream media for the most part went dark.

JOHN DOE RETURNS: The Wisconsin Supreme Court this week released hundreds of documents from Wisconsin’s unconstitutional John Doe investigation. There isn’t much new in the release, but the documents might just serve as a reminder of why the investigation was shut down.

With the exception of a retread story about former special prosecutor Francis Schmitz claiming he has returned the personal property the secret investigation unlawfully seized (Schmitz has made a lot of claims), most of the usual mainstream players bowed out of this one.

In all fairness, there was no “there” there.

Most of the information from the court motions, responses, emails, and exhibits had previously been reported on. Plenty of the documents were duplicates.

Not a single new thread for the left to try to rework its rejected “Gov. Scott Walker criminal scheme” narrative. Hence the general silence from the general press.

But there are many reminders in these court records of just how abusive this politically driven probe was. Critical points long forgotten or buried in the mainstream coverage.

‘Rubber stamp’ judge

Former John Doe Judge Barbara A. Kluka makes a number of cameos in newly released documents.

Kluka was the reserve judge effectively tapped by the state Supreme Court Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson to oversee the multi-county campaign finance investigation into Walker and dozens of conservative groups.

After signing off on the subpoenas and warrants used to raid the homes of conservatives, Kluka in late October 2013 suddenly and without explanation recused herself, citing a conflict.

In federal court filings, attorneys for Eric O’Keefe and the Wisconsin Club for Growth, targets of the unconstitutional John Doe probe, claimed Kluka “provided no meaningful oversight over this John Doe proceeding.” In other words, she was a “rubber stamp” judge.

“(P)ublic records indicate that she approved every petition, subpoena, and search warrant sought in the case, and purportedly reviewed hundreds of pages of affidavits and evidence, in just one day’s worth of work,” the court documents state.

And then, suddenly, the judge was gone.

More than three years later, it remains unclear what Kluka’s conflict was. She has declined to tell Wisconsin Watchdog. These latest batch of unsealed documents still don’t explain.

Ghostwriters at work

The myriad bitter and petty-toned responses and memos ostensibly written by Schmitz over years of legal wrangling apparently were ghost-written – a point well documented by attorneys for the conservative targets.

RELATED: Read Wisconsin Watchdog’s series, “Wisconsin’s Secret War”

Many of the special prosecutor’s communications in the Supreme Court file are initiated DR or BL, indicating that the responses actually were written by Milwaukee County assistant district attorneys David Robles and Bruce Landgraf.

The assistant DAs were key players in the secret probe launched in August 2012 by their boss, Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, a highly partisan Democrat. All three are plaintiffs in a John Doe-related, federal civil rights lawsuit.

Conservatives have argued, and court records suggest as much, that Schmitz was the empty suit in an investigation led by Chisholm’s office and the now-defunct state Government Accountability Board. And the former special prosecutor’s ghostwriters seemed to have been very busy, even after the state Supreme Court in July 2015 declared the John Doe unconstitutional, Schmitz’s position invalid, and ordered the probe shut down.

‘Perfect storm of wrongs’

Speaking of the Supreme Court’s ruling, the question remains for many, why are these prosecutors and investigators who instigated a “perfect storm of wrongs that was visited upon the innocent” not on trial? At least why have they not at any substantive level been held accountable for treating their victims to “the tyrannical retribution of arbitrary and capricious government prosecution,” as the ruling asserts?

Schmitz, Chisholm and the rest, of course, claim they did nothing wrong and insist that their secret probe found evidence of campaign finance violations.

Multiple judges did not concur in the prosecutors’ conclusion, including Kluka’s successor, John Doe Judge James Peterson. In January 2014, Peterson quashed the subpoenas used in the massive searches and seizures, ruling that the prosecutors had established no probable cause that crimes had been committed. The judge said the prosecutors’ claims that issue advocacy groups like the Wisconsin Club for Growth illegally engaged in express advocacy and coordinated with Walker’s campaign were unfounded.

Then the Supreme Court in its 2015 ruling held that Schmitz, the GAB’s hand-selected prosecutor, “employed theories of law that do not exist in order to investigate citizens who were wholly innocent of any wrongdoing.”

Chisholm appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court and lost. One of the prosecutors’ big arguments is that two conservative members of the state Supreme Court should have stepped away from the case because their election campaigns benefited from independent expenditures from some of the John Doe targets. They do not, however, make the same claim against liberal Justice Shirley Abrahamson and in the lower appeals court, Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg – each ruling against the conservatives, both supported in their election campaigns by the conservatives’ political enemies.

While critics castigate the 4-2 ruling by the conservative-led state Supreme Court, the decision stands. And thus far, the prosecutors who stand accused of conducting a government-funded investigation marked by retribution have faced no consequences for their behavior.

Walker rolls out welfare reform package

Mon, 01/23/2017 - 16:21

MILWAUKEE –  Gov. Scott Walker on Friday unveiled a next-generation welfare reform package that in many ways picks up where reform pioneer and former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson left off.

At press conferences around the state, Walker rolled out what his administration is billing as “Wisconsin Works for Everyone,” a package of reforms expected to be included in the state budget proposal next month.

“We know we can put people to work,” said Walker, speaking at ResCare Workforce Services in Milwaukee, the first of four stops promoting the reforms. “We want to be at a point where Wisconsin works for everyone.”

Walker’s plan would require able-bodied adults – with children older than 6 – that receive FoodShare benefits and housing assistance to work at least 80 hours per month or participate in a job training program. Currently, the work requirement only applies to adults without dependents.

REFORMING WELFARE: Gov. Scott Walker speaks with Senators Duey Stroebel (center) and Alberta Darling after his press conference Friday morning in Milwaukee announcing his welfare reform package.

Walker said his proposals are based on the welfare reforms under Thompson. The former Republican governor’s “Wisconsin Works” law in the 1990s helped drive sweeping welfare reform across the country. Signed in 1996, the reform law ended the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program and replaced it with a program based on work.

Thompson was expected to join Walker Monday afternoon for a press conference in Madison.

“We’re reinstating some of the obvious things, some of the common sense proposals that were included in Wisconsin Works,” Walker said.

“But we’re going to go further,” the governor added. “We’re saying we want to make sure that we break down other barriers along the way.”

Conservatives cheered the reform package as a road map out of poverty. Liberals jeered the proposal as punishment for being poor.

“I believe it is morally unfair and unjust to threaten reduced access to food and shelter for low-income families with children,” said state Sen. LaTonya Johnson, D-Milwaukee in a statement. “While Gov. Walker and his allies are giving hand-outs to the wealthy and well-connected at the expense of Wisconsin families in need, I will fight to build an infrastructure in Wisconsin that paves the way for our youth and families to thrive and succeed.”

State Sen. Duey Stroebel, R-Cedarburg, said government assistance should be a safety net for those who need it.

“The Governor’s proposal seeks to reconnect those out of the workforce with employment through needed reforms,” Stroebel said.

Another measure in the reform package aims to remove disincentives to work.

Walker said he hears from Wisconsin employers that one of the barriers to employment or job advancement is the childcare subsidy “cliff,” at 200 percent of the federal poverty line, with the elimination of the subsidy above that income threshold. The federal poverty line in Wisconsin for a family of four is $24,300 annually.

“People don’t want to take that job or they don’t want to take that increase because of a concern that they’ll lose benefits or assistance,” Walker said. “In many cases, in things like child care there’s a cliff people get to and they don’t go past that, and it becomes a real deterrent towards entering the workforce or taking a job advancement or promotion at their current employer.”

Instead of completely losing the child care subsidy, parents would see co-payments increased by $1 for every $3 that a family earns over the 200 percent of the federal poverty line barrier until the co-payment becomes the total cost of the child care.

Earlier this month, Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, sent a letter to Walker asking that the administration seek a federal waiver to create a “sliding scale” to address the so-called “benefits cliff,” in which low-income workers face losing benefits after a pay bump – oftentimes a slight one.

“A sliding scale would gradually decrease benefits until the worker can afford to completely move off government assistance,” Darling said at the time.

A similar approach would also be taken with the Medicaid Purchase Program (MAPP), which offers working people with disabilities the ability to buy health insurance through the state’s Medicaid program. The premium “cliff,” the end of the subsidy for MAPP, is at 150 percent of the federal poverty line. That limit would be eliminated and program participants would be required to show that they are working or in pre-employment programs, under Walker’s reform proposals. 

To bring Wisconsin’s prison inmate population back into the workforce, the reform package would include expanded vocational training through the technical colleges and more in-insitution training. Walker proposes adding a person at the Department of Workforce Development to increase the number of apprenticeships for ex-offenders and establish a mentorship pilot program.

Under Walker’s proposal, the state would expand from two counties to five the Supporting Parents, Supporting Kids program. The program helps noncustodial parents find work to meet their support obligations. Participation would also shift from elective to court-ordered participation for those noncustodial parents risking time in jail for nonpayment of child support. The measure would expand the earned-income tax credit to low-income noncustodial parents who pay their child support on time and are employed.

To reduce another barrier to work, Walker’s plan would establish a “Sunrise report” on occupational licenses. New licenses proposed by the legislature would trigger an analysis of whether the license is the “least restrictive means” of protecting health and safety. The report would also examine the extent the license would create a barrier to new workers in that field.

A newly established “Sunset Council” would examine existing occupational licenses and continuing education requirements to make recommendations for repeal based upon the same criteria used in the “Sunrise report.”

SEE RELATED: Growth of occupational licensing is hurting Wisconsin’s economy

A study by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty released in November said Wisconsin’s occupational licenses cost over 31,000 jobs, puts Wisconsin employers at a disadvantage, and costs consumers $1.93 billion.

“We fundamentally believe that public assistance should be a trampoline and not a hammock,” Walker said. “By that I mean we want to help people get back into the workforce and not be settled into assistance.”

Walker said reforming the public assistance system doesn’t just benefit state taxpayers and employers, but because it will help individuals achieve better lives, “through the dignity that comes from hard work.”

The governor was unable to say how much his welfare reform plan would cost taxpayers.

“We’ll put this in the total package of the budget, so we’re not going to announce a dollar amount,” Walker said in response to a question from Wisconsin Watchdog. “But there are some things that cost money, like when we expand rehabilitation treatment, and other things that save money.”

“We believe that even the things that cost us initially, for example, the wean off on child support, we believe over the long haul this will save us money,” Walker said. “These are things that encourage people to get in to the workforce. A little bit up front pays huge dividends.”

Critics blasted as unsuccessful Walker’s 2015 initiative that required able-bodied adults without children to be working or in job training in order to receive FoodShare benefits.

But a report in August by the MacIver Institute, a Madison-based free-market think tank, found wages and hours worked had increased for participants in the FoodShare Employment Training program.

“More than 14,400 people have found jobs since April 2015, according to new data from Wisconsin’s Department of Health Services,” according to MacIver’s report.

To implement some provisions of the welfare reform plan, Walker will need cooperation from the federal government. A waiver from the U.S. Department of  Housing and Urban Development is needed to create a work requirement for able-bodied adults in the housing voucher program.

SEE RELATED: Walker’s jobs plan includes drug-testing for individuals on public assistance

Walker will also need federal approval before proceeding with plans to drug test FoodShare recipients, something he requested in a letter to President Donald Trump in December. A similar program was blocked by federal courts in Florida as violations of the Fourth Amendment’s prohibitions on illegal search and seizure.

An open letter to the Wisconsin Supreme Court from a John Doe victim

Mon, 01/23/2017 - 10:21
Part 382 of 381 in the series Wisconsin's Secret War

MADISON, Wis. — On Friday, the Wisconsin Supreme Court, “on its own motion,” announced it will release previously sealed documents from the state’s unconstitutional John Doe II investigation.

The documents are expected to be released into the public file on Monday.

Deborah Jordahl, a conservative political consultant among many targeted in the politically driven probe, said she and her attorneys were blindsided by the court’s decision.

Jordahl said she wants the Supreme Court justices to know they have victimized innocent citizens all over again.

This is her open letter to the court.

Dear Wisconsin Supreme Court,

Some of you may know me as Unnamed Petitioner Number 7, but despite the impersonal nature of my title, I assure you I am a real person. A person with a husband, two children, and a small business and reputation I have worked very hard to establish. Like most citizens, I have never been charged or convicted of breaking any law.

NAMED PETITIONER: Deborah Jordahl, hounded in Wisconsin’s infamous ‘John Doe II’ investigation, says targets are being victimized again – this time by the court that declared the investigation unconstitutional.

Unlike most citizens, my family, my colleagues and I were subjected to the secret seizure of our phone, bank, tax and email records, armed pre-dawn raids of our homes, an unconstitutional gag order, vicious and unfounded accusations by prosecutors and the “accidental” release of private, illegally seized documents by a federal court. More recently we were subjected to the premeditated, illegal disclosure of additional documents to the press.

We were dragged through more than three years of extremely stressful, time consuming litigation resulting in several million dollars in legal bills. And even though we won in every court along the way, we still do not know the extent of the private property that was secretly seized directly from our banks, accountants, and Internet and phone providers. We have not had an opportunity to inspect that property and none of it has been returned to us.

We have done our best to move on with our lives. We recognize that the government officials who, as this court said, “Instigated a perfect storm of wrongs,” on people who are “wholly innocent of any wrongdoing,” will never be held accountable for their illegal and abusive behavior. This is extremely troubling, not because we want revenge, but because it sends a message to other prosecutors, investigators and judges that they can abuse their power with impunity.

Late last year, we asked this court for relief with regard to the return of our property, but after the illegally appointed Special Prosecutor in our case claimed to have returned to the court all of the property he had seized from our homes and our vendors, this court essentially told us that the case was over and we should go away and leave them alone.

So imagine my surprise at 5:15 on Friday evening when a reporter informed me that this court would release a cache of documents in our case, some of which we have never seen, first thing Monday morning. I was even more surprised to learn that none of our lawyers were on the distribution list to receive the court order.

Following are the relevant facts as I see them:

  1. The court acted “on its own motion,” which is to say no one asked it to do anything and we could not possibly have anticipated a ruling on anything.
  2. In acting on its own motion, the court did not seek the view of the parties on that “motion;” it simply granted its own motion without notice to the parties.
  3. The court dropped the order late on a Friday afternoon, just after our new President was sworn into office.
  4. The court directed its press officer to email the order to a long list of media outlets, but did not direct its clerk to email or fax the order to counsel for any of the parties. So the parties affected had to read about it in the newspaper and their lawyers will likely receive the order by U.S. Mail, on Monday or Tuesday. Later for those located outside of Wisconsin.
  5. In granting its own motion, the court specifically decided without input from the parties what redactions to make or not to make.
  6. The court order says it will release some documents that include no redactions because the parties opted not to make redactions by a court imposed deadline. This is of great concern because there are many documents in the court’s possession, some of which are listed for release, that the parties have never seen or had an opportunity to redact. That is in part because the court allowed the Special Prosecutor to file two volumes of exhibits under seal without serving them on our lawyers.
  7. The documents for release will be placed into the public file by a court commissioner or clerk who has no realistic fear of being fired or in any way held accountable for an inadvertent or accidental disclosure. This observation and concern is not based on paranoia or a lack of respect. It’s based on real life experience.

So I ask this court, what could possibly go wrong, and do any of you even care?

When you ruled in this case, you seemed to understand that we are real people whose lives were turned upside down by government officials you determined had no statutory or constitutional right to seize our property in the first place. So why did you decide the press should have access to documents before we do, or at all, when those documents were illegally taken from us?

Perhaps you believe there are limits to an individual’s right to privacy, due process and freedom of speech, even when they have committed no crime.

Perhaps you are more concerned with what the press will say about you if you don’t give them at least some of what they want. Regardless of your beliefs and motives, there is simply no way to spin the fact that the court willfully blind-sided us with a Friday night order we did not receive. If mistakes are made in the release of these files because we had no time or opportunity to review them, there will be no way to undo the additional damage to real people who have already endured so much.

Deborah Hawley Jordahl is a conservative strategist and consultant with 25 years experience in coalition building, issue mobilization and fundraising for a variety of political, nonprofit and corporate organizations.

Civil asset forfeiture reform reintroduced in Legislature

Sun, 01/22/2017 - 19:38

MADISON, Wis. – Law enforcement would no longer be able to seize and keep an innocent person’s property under a bill aimed at reforming Wisconsin’s civil asset forfeiture law.

State. Sen. Dave Craig last week released the bill for co-sponsorship.

The Town of Vernon Republican said it’s astonishing that it’s “common practice” in Wisconsin and so many other states to allow law enforcement and district attorneys to launch civil lawsuits against property suspected to have been used in a criminal enterprise even though the person linked to the property is never charged with a crime.

“That is a grave concern to me as a conservative and it should be a grave concern to all of us who submit to a constitution,” Craig told Wisconsin Watchdog Friday on the Vicki McKenna Show on NewsTalk 1310 WIBA.

Craig’s reform bill allows forfeiture of property only after conviction, to ensure that “citizens are truly treated as innocent until proven” guilty.

FORFEITURE REFORM: State Sen. Dave Craig, R-Town of Vernon, has introduced a bill aimed at reforming civil asset forfeiture. A similar bill died in committee last session.

The bill’s “innocent owner” provision requires property seized during an arrest to be returned to innocent owners of the property if the criminal activity occurred without their knowledge and they can prove their ownership.

And the proposal allows the court, upon petition by a person whose property was seized but not yet forfeited, to return the possession to the person under certain defined circumstances.

Wisconsin law mandates any proceeds from property seized in civil asset forfeiture to go to the state’s common school fund. The idea is to protect citizens from what the Institute for Justice calls “Policing for Profit.”

But so-called federal “Equitable Sharing” agreements provide for proceeds of liquidated seized assets from asset forfeiture to be shared between state and federal law enforcement agencies. Revenue in those cases in Wisconsin do not have to go to the school fund, in what lawmakers like Craig and Sen. Fred Kessler, D-Milwaukee, see as an end-around to the constitution.

The Institute for Justice, which bills itself as a national law firm for liberty, reports that each year police and prosecutors nationwide take hundreds of millions of dollars in cash, cars, homes and other property – “regardless of the owners’ guilt or innocence.”

“Under civil forfeiture laws, the government can seize this property on the mere suspicion that it is connected to criminal activity. No charges or convictions are required,” the organization states in its most recent “Policing for Profit report. “And once property is seized, owners must navigate a confusing, complex and often expensive legal process to try to win it back.

“Worst of all, most civil forfeiture laws give law enforcement agencies a powerful incentive to take property: a cut, or even all, of forfeiture proceeds.”

Craig’s bill requires all proceeds from the sale of all forfeited property be turned in to the state school fund, as demanded in the state constitution.

The bill prohibits law enforcement agencies from transferring property to federal agencies for forfeitures under federal law, unless the value of the property exceeds $50,000 or the property can be forfeited only under federal law.

Law enforcement agencies must prove “clear and convincing evidence” exists to take property not directly related to a crime. The language mirrors language in the Due Process Act of 2016, introduced by U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Menomonee Falls.

And the reform measure creates a timeline requiring that seized property be returned to property owners within 30 days of a dismissal or a not guilty verdict. Wisconsin citizens have reported cases in which their property was held indefinitely, even after a case had been settled.

A similar reform bill appeared to have strong bipartisan support last session before state Rep. Joel Kleefisch, R-Oconomowoc, chairman of the Assembly Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, killed it in committee.

Mike Mikalsen, spokesman for Sen. Stephen Nass, R-Whitewater, in March said the law enforcement community lobbied hard against the reform measure, framing the bill as “anti-police.” Nass introduced the Senate version of the bill last session.

RELATED: Cops, Kleefisch killed civil asset forfeiture reform

A spokeswoman for Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, at the time said the speaker “intends on bringing up the legislation” in the 2017-18 session.

Craig said at least there was a good deal of education on the bill last session, allowing lawmakers to become acquainted with the problem.

“We had a groundswell that occurred slightly too late in the legislative process,” the senator said. “I think the stars are starting to align behind this.”

Craig said there remains opposition from members of the law enforcement community.

“I would say to them, ‘We acknowledge that drug intercession and fighting crime is important, but we have to make sure we are not using constitutional shortcuts’” Craig said.

Walker to unveil welfare reform plan

Sun, 01/22/2017 - 13:44

MADISON, Wis. – Gov. Scott Walker is scheduled to make a major announcement on welfare reform Monday.

The Republican governor will travel to Milwaukee, Green Bay, Eau Claire and Madison. He will be joined in Madison by welfare reform pioneer, former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson.

The day begins at 9:30 a.m. at ResCare Workforce Services in Milwaukee. Next up, the Brown County Offices in Green Bay at 11:30 a.m., followed by the Eau Claire State Office Building at 1:50 p.m. and the State Capitol at 3:55 p.m.

Walker’s press office did not provide further details.

WELFARE REFORMERS: Gov. Scott Walker will be joined by former Gov. Tommy Thompson Monday for an announcement on welfare reform.

In his state of the state address earlier this month, Walker called on Wisconsin again to be a leader in welfare reform, continuing the work that Thompson began a generation ago.

“Rewarding work will be our top priority,” Walker said. “Here in Wisconsin, we are willing to help people who are down and out. But public assistance should be a trampoline, not a hammock.”

RELATED: Walker: Workforce development, welfare reform top priorities

The success of Thompson’s Welfare to Work, or W2, initiative in the 1990s helped drive sweeping welfare reform across the country. Signed in 1996, the reform law ended the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program and replaced it with a program based on work.

Lawrence Mead, professor of Politics at New York University, has described Thompson as the “crucial, most important single leader” in welfare reform.

“Wisconsin took the idea to extremes not seen anywhere else in the country,” Mead told a Manhattan Institute conference on welfare reform in 2004. “Wisconsin Works, the eventual system that it implemented, is the most radical reform in the country…and is a triumph of government.”

Walker, too, has led reforms of public assistance programs. In 2015, the state implemented work and training requirements for participants of FoodShare, Wisconsin’s food stamp program.

A report in August by the MacIver Institute, a Madison-based free-market think tank, found wages and hours worked had increased for participants in the FoodShare Employment Training program.

“More than 14,400 people have found jobs since April 2015, according to new data from Wisconsin’s Department of Health Services,” according to MacIver’s report.

Program critics like U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin have characterized the program as an attack on the poor.

“We are concerned that the state’s recent changes in FoodShare eligibility and the underperforming FoodShare Employment and Training program are moving vulnerable Wisconsinites deeper into poverty rather than lifting them up,” the Madison Democrat wrote in a letter to the governor in March.

Walker fired back at an April press conference in Eau Claire.

“Some people in Washington have mistakenly pointed to this program and said that we are cutting people off it they don’t work. That’s not true,” Walker said. “We either require employment of up to 80 hours per month, or enrollment in our training programs, or a mixture of both. The idea being we can find a job for anybody in the state if they get the job skills and they stay committed to the program.”

Wisconsin lawmakers balk at ESSA exclusion

Fri, 01/20/2017 - 14:18

Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin say executive branch officials are ignoring them in writing plans for implementing the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. Their response: write legislation that would give them a bigger say on ESSA policy.

“The move follows allegations that Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers and the state Education Department have made “unilateral decisions” about Wisconsin’s ESSA plan,” The 74 reports.

The law requires state education officials to consult with governors and legislators, but doesn’t define the extent of such consultations.

Read more here.

Attorney General’s office reviewing Milwaukee County corruption complaint

Fri, 01/20/2017 - 12:16

MADISON, Wis. — A complaint alleging corruption in the Milwaukee County court system is now in the hands of Wisconsin’s attorney general.

A spokesman for Attorney General Brad Schimel tells Wisconsin Watchdog that the state Department of Justice recently received a referral from District Attorney John Chisholm of the complaint, filed by Milwaukee entrepreneur Emmanuel Mamalakis.

CORRUPTION COMPLAINT: Emmanuel Mamalakis alleges a Milwaukee law firm broke the law and a judge turned a blind eye in a case involving the dissolution of his company.

“We are reviewing,” said Johnny Koremenos, the DOJ communications director.

Mamalakis, a litigant in multiple lawsuits involving his former company,  SXP Analytics LLC, accuses Milwaukee-based O’Neil, Cannon, Hollman DeJong & Laing SC, the court-appointed receiver for SXP’s assets, of conspiring with Quantlab Technologies Ltd. of Houston in an egregious breach of fiduciary duty.

Mamalakis alleges that Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Paul Van Grunsven turned a blind eye to the law firm’s alleged double-dealing because of his ties to a cadre of politically connected local attorneys.

According to court documents, Mamalakis alleges that O’Neil, Cannon, Hollman DeJong & Laing SC and Seth Dizzard, the firm’s attorney who served as receiver, combined with an SXP minority partner “for the purpose of willfully and maliciously injuring Mamalakis and his reputation, trade, business profession in exchange for receipt of financial benefit.”

Mamalakis alleges the receiver did legal work for Quantlab, SXP’s main adversary, while it was legally bound to serve the interests of the receivership. He also asserts the receiver and his firm were leveraging for a big pay day if Quantlab won its lawsuits against SXP.

“This is clear-cut misconduct in public office and bribery,” he said in a story first reported by Wisconsin Watchdog. “They took money they were not allowed to take and lied in their filings about it.”

The law firm has vehemently denied the allegations in multiple court proceedings and in an interview with Wisconsin Watchdog. An attorney for the firm told Wisconsin Watchdog that three courts have found the firm’s conduct appropriate and legal.

Mamalakis’ claims Van Grunsven’s decision in 2015 tossing out the misconduct complaints was not only wrong but illegal.

RELATED: Litigant in messy legal battle alleges corruption in Milwaukee County court

The judge originally raised the point that Mamalakis and his attorneys pushed, that the receiver has an exclusive fiduciary — or financial trust — duty to SXP.

“And that means doing everything in your power to avoid a judgment by Quantlab against SXP,” the judge said.

Van Grunsven agreed to meet with the receiver’s attorneys privately in his chambers and placed under seal the explanation the law firm provided on why it could not turn over requested documents.

And in January 2015, he dismissed Mamalakis’ complaint, claiming in part that the receiver and his attorneys enjoyed “quasi-immunity.” Not if they broke the law, Mamalakis argued, to no avail.

Mamalakis alleges that Chisholm did nothing with the case, and that he was asked by the Democrat district attorney’s handler to keep his concerns quiet until Chisholm got through his election campaign.

Chisholm has not returned calls seeking comment.

Mamalakis said he had a “very short, very curt conversation” with Chisholm last week.

“He said, ‘In light of your public comments (to Wisconsin Watchdog), I’m closing the investigation. Am I to assume you would like me to send this to the [Wisconsin] attorney general’s office?’”

“I said, ‘Could you, please. That would be nice,’” Mamalakis added.

Mamalakis, a former securities litigator, said Chisholm’s office should have referred the case to another jurisdiction from the beginning due to a standard conflict of interest.

DPI superintendent candidate proposes changes to school report cards

Fri, 01/20/2017 - 10:01

MILWAUKEE – Candidate for state Superintendent of Public Instruction John Humphries on Thursday announced a plan to revise the state’s school report card system to make it more transparent and raise standards.

“We start with an honest assessment of proficiency and what that means,” Humphries said at a press conference Thursday. “We create transparent criteria that makes sense to people and then we share information with letter grades for clarity.”

MORE ACCOUNTABILITY? DPI Superintendent candidate John Humphries proposed a new report card system for schools at a press conference Thursday.

The Department of Public Instruction compiles report cards on every public school and every public school district in Wisconsin. Schools and school districts are graded from highest, “Significantly Exceeds Expectations,” to lowest, “Fails to Meet Expectations.” The report cards began in 2012 to provide parents with more information before choosing a school for their children.

The report cards assess schools and school districts in four areas: student achievement in English language arts and mathematics, student growth, closing achievement gaps between student groups, and measures of readiness for graduation and postsecondary success. A score from zero to 100 is assigned and that determines the district’s grade.

For the 2015-16 school year, the state changed the report card to take into account the poverty in the district as well as student growth. The change lifted Milwaukee Public Schools from last year’s “fails to meet expectations” to “meets few expectations,” a passing score. The district avoided having any schools eligible for a state-imposed turnaround school district, the Opportunity Schools Participation Program.

“We continue to focus on the level of achievement, growth, and gap in our report cards,” Humphries said, “But we get honest about the scoring system. Twenty-five thousand kids in Milwaukee right now attend failing schools, but Milwaukee’s not a failing district. That’s fundamentally dishonest.”

Humphries said that because of how the standards were set by current DPI Superintendent Tony Evers, too many failing schools and school districts get passing grades.

“Report card scores are set unilaterally by the state superintendent,” Humphries said. “Too many low performing schools appear to get, they get, passing scores. Our scores are inflated on all schools. Even high performing schools look better than they truly are.”

To make the system less arbitrary, Humphries would use ACT scores to set the standard, that a child rated as proficient would have an 80 percent chance of succeeding in their freshman year of college. That number would set the standard for lower grade levels, that a child would be 80 percent likely to be on track to be successful at the next grade level.

Schools would also be graded on student growth and on closing achievement gaps, but would not weigh student family income as heavily. Instead, comparisons in growth among students statewide from similar economic backgrounds would be used in the student growth measurement for a school.

Schools would also be rated on four-year graduation rates. Asked if that would be an incentive to schools to push unprepared students through to drive up their rating, Humphries said that the report card category on student proficiency would prevent that.

“So there is an incentive to get kids through graduation in four years,” Humphries said. “But that’s been a hallmark of high quality schools, graduating in four years with high levels of proficiency.”

The new report card system would use letter grades to make the system more transparent. Humphries was unable to say how many districts would be given an F, a failing grade, using the new report cards, or if Milwaukee Public Schools would be rated as failing.

“I have not run the actual numbers, but my guess is that a school district with such a substantial number of failing schools would be in the lowest category,” Humphries said.

Neither of Humphries’ opponents, Evers and Lowell Holtz, responded to requests for comment on the proposed report card changes. Holtz, Evers and Humphries face each other in a primary election on February 21. The top two candidates will face off in the April 4 general election.

SEE RELATED: 24,447: That’s how many students are in failing MPS schools, latest ‘report cards’ show

Brett Healy, president of the MacIver Institute for Public Policy in Madison, said the current report card system is broken and in need of repair.

“Parents and taxpayers are confused by the current system and mad that the politicians are playing games with their children’s future,” Healy said in a statement.

GRADING THE GRADES: The current system of rating schools would be replaced by letter grades in new school report cards in a proposal by John Humphries, candidate for state superintendent of schools.

Healy said the proposal appears to be well thought out and contains meaningful reforms. “

“Let’s hope the other candidates running to head up our school system realize how important this issue is and join the debate about how we can improve education in Wisconsin for all of our children,” Healy said.

SEE RELATED: Grading on a curve? Wisconsin shifts emphasis of state’s report cards for schools

School Choice Wisconsin President Jim Bender, a supporter of weighting the report cards for poverty, said in a statement that the report cards are, “a work in progress.”  

“In the end, they need to be simple, understandable but relay the information that parents need,” Bender said. “I would welcome more detailed ideas from all the candidates.”

Johnson seeks GAO review of alleged Social Security ‘shell game’

Thu, 01/19/2017 - 12:17
Part 52 of 51 in the series Deadly Delays

MADISON, Wis. – U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson wants to know whether the Social Security Administration is playing a “shell game” with its hefty disability benefits caseload, to the detriment of claimants’ due process rights.

The Oshkosh Republican, in his capacity as chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, sent a letter this week to the Government Accountability Office asking for a review of the case-transfer practices of SSA’s Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, or ODAR.

“Transfers may be sensible in some circumstances to expedite case processing. However, if the practice is merely a shell game to artificially reduce an office’s APT (average processing time), the transfers may needlessly delay adjudications for claimants,” Johnson wrote to Comptroller General Gene Dodaro.

Johnson’s request is driven by due process concerns of former Milwaukee ODAR senior case technician Ron Klym. In the lead story of Wisconsin Watchdog’s investigative series, “Deadly Delays,” Klym provided documents showing hundreds of cases languishing in the system for nearly two years – in some cases, much longer.

SEEKING ANSWERS: U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson and the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee he chairs want the Government Accountability Office to look into the Social Security Administration’s practices of transferring claimant cases.

Average processing times from initial application to reconsideration, if the request is denied, can be more than a year.

Cases are then appealed to the administrative law judges at ODAR for review and final judgment.

Milwaukee’s average processing time is at 620 days.

Klym provided Wisconsin Watchdog with records showing cases from Green Bay, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and other smaller communities in the Milwaukee ODAR coverage area had even longer backlogs in recent years.

Dozens of cases on appeal took more than 700 days to complete. One Green Bay case clocked in at 862 days to dispose of. A Marquette request for benefits hit 1,064 days, and another was completed in 1,126 days.

“We had two clients who stopped in the office yesterday wondering what’s going on, and they have been waiting for 21 months,” Jessica Bray, partner at Upper Michigan Law in Escanaba, Mich., told Wisconsin Watchdog in May. Her colleague handled the noted cases that topped 1,000 days. “I sent a letter to the Milwaukee office, but I don’t think it’s going to do any good. Those cases haven’t even been assigned yet.”

Klym said the long delays are impairing applicants’ civil rights. While those seeking Social Security disability benefits don’t have an unquestioned right to the payments, they do have a right to due process, he said.

“No one can guarantee the benefit. I know a case where someone has filed for a benefit 26 times,” Klym said in the May story. “It’s not the result, it’s the opportunity. If your opportunity has been waylaid, to paraphrase (George) Orwell, we’re all equal, but some are more equal. That’s a process issue.”

ODAR’s massive backlog, north of 1 million cases as of the last federal review, is no secret. But its policies on moving cases to other offices is not well known to the public.

Klym, who was fired in August after speaking out, describes the process as a “shell game.”

In May, he told Wisconsin Watchdog the Milwaukee office’s case disposition numbers have at times drastically improved because managers in the chain have dumped off scores of cases to other regional offices.

“They are wholesale shipping cases out,” the senior legal assistant said. The impression is that the offices are performing at a better rate than they actually are. “When you ship 1,000 cases to somewhere else, then you do an audit, it looks better.”

RELATED: Whistleblower alleges misconduct, incompetence in Social Security office

An SSA spokesman repeatedly has declined to comment on personnel matters but has acknowledged the “high average processing time for disability appeal hearings, and we are working to address the issue.”

“The Social Security disability program is an important resource for people with disabilities, and we work tirelessly every day to provide the best service possible,” said Doug Nguyen, communications director for the Social Security Administration’s Chicago region.

Klym said there are several people in the region who are aware of the practice.

DUE PROCESS CLAIMS: Ron Klym, a long-time Social Security Administration employee, was fired shortly after going public with allegations of waste, fraud and abuse at the Milwaukee office.

Bray certainly is.

In the May investigative report, Bray said her colleague has seen some 50 Upper Peninsula-based cases shipped off to Oak Park, Ill. In 2004, she said, dozens of cases were sent to New Hampshire and Oakland, Calif. Cases in Green Bay were assigned to an office in New Mexico.

“I’m not sure why they are doing it, but from an attorney’s perspective, we say, ‘Thank goodness.’ At least we can get our clients a hearing,” Bray said.

Johnson wants to know exactly why the agency is doing it.

“While SSA has attempted to address the hearings backlog through its Compassionate and Responsive Service (CARES) plan, my office received allegations from an SSA employee that cases are being transferred between hearing offices prior to a routine audit in an effort to conceal the actual APT,” Johnson wrote the comptroller.

“Given the more than 1 million Americans who are waiting for SSA to process their cases, I request your assistance in determining the efficiency of ODAR’s case processing systems and hearing workload management,” Johnson’s letter states.  “Although GAO has offered Congress a helpful analysis of the hearing backlogs plaguing SSA in the past, it appears that little is known about how SSA moves around its hearing workload, and the effect of such workload-balancing initiatives on processing times and pending caseloads.”

The Senate committee wants to know:

1. What criteria does the Social Security Administration use to determine which cases to transfer and where to transfer them?

2. To what extent does the Social Security Administration transfer cases between offices, and what have been the effects on processing times and the number of pending cases nationwide, regionally, and by office?

3. How effective are the Social Security Administration’s procedures for managing and overseeing disability claims to ensure they are being processed according to program rules?

In June, the committee launched an inquiry into the Social Security Administration’s myriad whistleblower allegations of misconduct and retaliation. At the Madison ODAR facility, employees allege widespread corruption, intimidation and sexual harassment. In one case, and administrative law judge is accused of writing inappropriate comments about claimants, and deciding cases based on their appearance. That judge has since retired, as multiple federal investigations continue into the Madison office and others.

Klym, meanwhile, is awaiting an arbitration hearing next month on what he asserts was a wrongful dismissal, motivated by management animus and retaliation.

The whistleblower said he is hopeful an independent review will provide a big-picture view of the problems inside the troubled federal agency.

“I hope that the independent audit will have a clear and concise view that provides the Senate with the information it needs to go forward to a hearing,” Klym said.

Presidential candidates missed the most votes in Congress last year

Thu, 01/19/2017 - 08:53

The thing about running for president is you’re going to miss a lot of work.

The annual report card for the 114th Congress from congressional tracking website GovTrack.us shows that the three U.S. senators who tried to move from the Capitol to the White House also missed the most votes in 2016.

ABSENT: U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, missed nearly a third of Senate roll call votes while running for president in 2016.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, lead the way by missing 32.3 percent of the 502 votes cast in 2016, followed by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., with 31.3 percent. Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders from Vermont, an independent who’s actually among the most liberal members of the Senate, missed 28.5 percent of the votes.

Josh Tauberer, creator of GovTrack, told Watchdog.org that’s a very common occurrence during a presidential election.

“Everybody, when they run for president, they stop voting because they’re campaigning,” he said.

Among the senators in the top 10 for missed votes were three who left the Senate after the 114th Congress: Sen. David Vitter, R-La., with 15.1 percent (fifth), Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., 13.3 percent (sixth) and Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., 12.2 percent (seventh).

Those members of Congress who aren’t running for re-election are no longer beholden to voters, though Tauberer said he hasn’t examined the numbers closely enough over the years to see if there’s a pattern of high numbers of missed votes for those leaving office.

Twelve senators missed no votes in 2016, including such notables as Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who hasn’t missed a vote in 23 years, Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.

View the total missed votes for each member of the Senate here, and for the House here.

Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., was not present for 29.3 percent of 1,325 House votes cast last year, topping that list. She’s also out the Capitol door for the 115th Congress after losing a Senate race. So is Rep. Stephen Fincher, R-Tenn., who missed 27.3 percent of votes for the dubious runner-up position.

Six representatives missed at least 20 percent of votes, while 11 missed no votes.

GovTrack notes that missed votes are not calculated for the Speaker of the House because the Speaker is not required to vote in “ordinary legislative proceedings,” according to House rules.

Tomah VA Medical Center’s ‘Candy Man’ stripped of license

Wed, 01/18/2017 - 22:54
Part 41 of 40 in the series Tomah VA Scandal

MADISON, Wis. –The “Candy Man” cannot practice medicine in Wisconsin ever again.

That’s the ruling of the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services.

Dr. David Houlihan, the former chief of staff and acting medical director at the Tomah Veterans Affairs Medical Center, was fired in November 2015 following multiple reports that he oversaw a staff that overprescribed opiates. The initial story, broken by the Center for Investigative Reporting, documented the death of a 35 year-old Marine veteran who died in August 2014 of a toxic cocktail of prescription medications while at the hospital.

Houlihan was known as the “Candy Man” in and around the hospital for his alleged opioid prescription practices.

In a deal announced Wednesday, the Department of Safety and Professional Services ordered the mental health professional to permanently surrender his license and registration. Houlihan may not practice medicine in Wisconsin again and the ruling will be placed in a national physician database. In exchange, state regulators have agreed to drop their investigation into the doctor’s conduct.

PERMANENTLY REVOKED: State regulators ordered former Tomah VA Medical Center Chief of Staff, Dr. David Houlihan, to surrender his license within 30 days. He will not be allowed to practice medicine in Wisconsin again.

Safety and Professional Services found Houlihan failed to provide appropriate care to at least 22 veterans and engaged in misconduct over many years.

“This agreement will not bring back the veterans he harmed, the employee he drove to suicide, or other whistleblowers whose reputations he destroyed, but I am at least happy he won’t be seeing patients in Wisconsin again,” said Ryan Honl, a former Tomah employee and whistleblower who helped bring to light allegations of misconduct.

“This news brings to mind the Wisconsin veterans and families who were affected by the tragedies at the Tomah VA Medical Center,” said Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh in a statement. Johnson is chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which released a 359-page report in May 2016 detailing “systematic failures and preventable tragedies” at the hospital.

RELATED: Tomah VA hospital story is one of ‘systemic failures,’ report finds

“As my committee’s investigation also found, the Tomah VA and Houlihan repeatedly failed to honor this nation’s promises to the finest among us. Our veterans deserve world class care, as well as accountability for those who fail to provide it,” Johnson said.

In April, Administrative Law Judge Jennifer Nashold restored Houlihan’s medical license, overturning the Wisconsin Medical Examining Board’s emergency suspension. Nashold said the board acted hastily in suspending Houlihan’s license while an investigation into his conduct continued.

Houlihan had established a private psychiatry practice early in 2016 as the investigation dragged on.

The Senate report noted  Houlihan was promoted to the chief position at Tomah in 2004, despite previous charges against the psychiatrist from the Iowa State Board of Medical Examiners that he had “inappropriate professional boundaries” with a patient. The VA did not formally address the Iowa allegations until 2009, but by that time VA regional leadership determined the matter was “resolved.”

Houlihan was at the helm in November 2007, when Tomah VA veteran Kraig Ferrington died from “poly medication overdose.” Ferrington had been discharged less than 24 hours before. Investigations determined there were deficiencies in the medical center’s medication management.

“(T)here is a general concern regarding the number of medications (Ferrington) was on, and the potential interactions among them,” one VA consultant wrote, according to the committee report.

In June 2009, a Drug Enforcement Administration investigator interviewed Noelle Johnson, a pharmacist at the facility who was fired after questioning prescriptions. She showed the DEA 10 examples of patients who had prescriptions that were either too high in dosage or too long in duration, according to the report.

After being fired on July 14, 2009, Dr. Christopher Kirkpatrick died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Prior to his death, Kirkpatrick had raised concerns about overprescribing practices at the medical center.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin, whose office was criticized early on for failing to heed whistleblower warnings, called the ruling “welcome news.”

“I believe (Houlihan) has no business treating our nation’s veterans or any citizen in Wisconsin,” the Madison Democrat said in a statement.

Social Security acting commissioner leaving amid cloud of corruption probes

Wed, 01/18/2017 - 14:18

MADISON, Wis. – Social Security Administration Acting Commissioner Carolyn Colvin has announced she is stepping down.

You’ll excuse whistleblower employees of the scandal-plagued federal agency for not shedding any tears at Colvin’s departure.

“I’m ecstatic about it,” said one employee in the SSA’s Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, or ODAR, division. The employee, a whistleblower, asked not to be identified for fear of reprisal.

In a “Farewell Message” email last week to Social Security Administration staff members, Colvin wrote that she has advised President Barack Obama that she will be leaving her position as acting commissioner at the end of the president’s term on Friday.

“I have devoted my life to public service, serving in positions at all levels of government, but serving here with all of you has been the greatest honor of my life,” Colvin wrote. “The times I have treasured the most are the times I have been able to visit your offices to speak with you about the important work we do, and about your dreams and aspirations.  Those are some of my most joyous and inspirational times at SSA. You are truly the greatest public servants in government.”

STEPPING DOWN: Acting Social Security Administration Commissioner Carolyn Colvin told her employees last week that she is stepping down when President Barack Obama leaves office Friday.

In June 2014, Obama nominated Colvin to lead the agency, which boasts some 65,000 employees and is projected this year to pay out $1 trillion in federal benefits to 68.4 million recipients.

Senate Republicans blocked the appointment amid a “cloud hanging over” Colvin’s nomination. She had assumed the acting commissioner post in February 2013.

The Social Security Administration has been hammered by one negative report after another. A $300 million computer project failed. Designed to help hasten the process of disability claims, an audit found the program could handle just 700 of the millions of claims. Colvin’s defenders say the computer program was initiated under former SSA Commissioner Michael J. Astrue, Colvin’s predecessor. Republicans, however, questioned whether SSA top administrators misled or withheld information from Congress about the scope of the problem.

The Government Accountability Office in 2013 estimated some 36,000 people picked up a combined $1.3 billion in erroneous payments over two years.

Colvin’s tenure has included many of the same problems that have afflicted the agency for some time, most notably the massive backlog of Social Security disability benefit claims.

As Wisconsin Watchdog reported in May, whistleblower Ron Klym, a long-time case worker at the Milwaukee Office of Disability Adjudication and Review alleged grave due process violations in the system. Klym, who was fired in August, claims ODAR facilities operated “shell games” to make their processing numbers better than they were. He accused management of discrimination, harassment, retaliation and other incidents of misconduct.

Whistleblowers allege a “culture of corruption” at the Madison ODAR facility. An administrative law judge recently retired under a cloud of sexual harassment allegations. The hearing office director and another manager were removed from the office. Whistleblowers accuse management of bribery, nepotism, fraud, and retaliation, among other charges.

RELATED: Social Security judge accused of deciding cases on sex appeal retires

Sources say the SSA’s Office of Inspector General, which has been investigating the allegations for months, is preparing criminal and administrative reports on the probes.

Whistleblowers have reported misconduct allegations in SSA offices from West Virginia to California.

“I think she’s getting out while she can,” one whistleblower said of Colvin’s departure under a cloud of scandal.

In her farewell letter, Colvin told Social Security Administration employees they can be proud of numerous accomplishments “which represent our shared legacy.”

“Remember, each day, thousands and thousands of individuals may experience, for even a moment, hope, and if we are lucky, a better life, because of something you have been able to do for them,” the outgoing acting commissioner wrote.

UW-Platteville whistleblower professor ordered to clean out office

Wed, 01/18/2017 - 12:56

DUE PROCESS QUESTIONS: UW-Platteville Criminal Justice Professor Sabina Burton this week filed a civil rights lawsuit against the university alleging her due process rights have been violated.

MADISON, Wis. — In what she asserts is the latest example of administration-led harassment and retaliation, University of Wisconsin-Platteville whistleblower Professor Sabina Burton was ordered to clean out her office while the institution’s police chief stood by.

Burton, who has accused administrators of discrimination, intimidation and retaliation, could lose her position as associate criminal justice professor, pending the outcome of an investigation.

Meanwhile, Burton this week filed a federal lawsuit against administrators, university grievance board members and the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents, alleging violations of her due process rights connected to previous disciplinary actions.

Earlier this month, Chancellor Dennis Shields in a letter advised Burton that he was “initiating the dismissal process.”

“As a result, I am instigating an investigation. I will provide further information about the investigation as soon as possible,” Shields wrote. “I expect you to give your full cooperation to the investigator.”

RELATED: Chancellor moves to fire UW-P whistleblower professor

Burton was told to remove her possessions from her campus office. She did so Tuesday evening, under the supervision of the law enforcement official Burton has accused of threatening her.

“It was absolutely ridiculous to have the chief there tonight. They treated me like a criminal,” Burton told Wisconsin Watchdog in an email. “The locks were already changed out.”

The investigation comes a little over a month after Shields dismissed another complaint against Burton, noting the “complaints do not warrant disciplinary action or further investigation.”

In that probe, Shields hired a private investigator to question Burton at her home. Burton provided evidence showing the allegations made against her were false and told Wisconsin Watchdog the probe was a means to push out a vocal critic of Shields’ administration.

The latest complaint against Burton was filed by outgoing Interim Provost Elizabeth Throop and Melissa Gormley, interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Education. Throop, who is leaving for an administrative post at Frostburg State University in Maryland following the spring semester, is a defendant in a federal civil rights lawsuit that Burton previously filed against the university.

REMOVED: Professor Sabina Burton looks on as UW-Platteville Police Chief Joe Hallman signs off on Burton’s return of her office keys. Burton was ordered to clean out her campus office while the university investigates her and considers whether to fire the embattled professor.

The case is now at the appeals level after a lower court said Burton’s case did not meet standards laid out by civil rights law. Burton alleges Throop repeatedly retaliated against her after the professor tried to help a female student who said she was sexually harassed by a male criminal justice professor.

Shields, who has been criticized by faculty and students for his handling of other misconduct allegations, informed Burton that if the administrators’ allegations are true, they would warrant “Burton’s dismissal.”

Among other offenses, the complaint alleges Burton behaved “unprofessionally,” including “involving students into your personal concerns.”

The chancellor asserts Burton has broken the trust with her colleagues. Administrators complain about a website Burton and her husband, Roger Burton, operate. They charge that universitycorruption.com includes confidential personnel information in the form of audio recordings and transcripts. Burton says she has invoked her right under Wisconsin law to record Criminal Justice Department meetings as evidence for her case. Her website includes a raft of court documents, including depositions.

MOVE TO DISMISS: UW-P Chancellor Dennis Shields earlier this month informed Professor Sabina Burton that he was “initiating the dismissal process.”

Burton counters that she “never acted badly at work in any way,” that she was “always civil” to her colleagues. Any of her complaints or grievances were done in writing, she said.

“I never communicated to my students in class or via email about my case. I was always professional at work,” the professor said. “That is why Shields, Throop and Gormley couldn’t include such allegations in the January 2017 complaint against me. So why would they treat me now as if I was unprofessional at work? For no other reason than to humiliate and harass me? To make it seem to others that I am a problem?”

In late November, Burton alleged that UW-Platteville Police Chief Joe Hallman intimidated her on her way to class.

“(H)e said something to the effect, ‘You make people very uncomfortable. People feel threatened. Be aware of that,’” Burton recalled.

Hallman told Burton he had read Wisconsin Watchdog’s investigative stories on allegations of misconduct and retaliation at the southwest Wisconsin university. She told him, “Well, I have been made uncomfortable for years. I was threatened. Nobody here cared or came to my help, so what do you mean?” Hallman didn’t answer, Burton said.

The chief said his intention was simply to introduce himself, not to threaten or to intimidate.

During the “brief” walk, the chief said he did mention that he has had “other colleagues in the Criminal Justice Department contact me and express concerns over some of the ongoing issues.” Hallman did not specify what he meant by “issues.”

RELATED: Criminal Justice professor alleges intimidation by UW-Platteville’s top cop

“In telling her that, I was simply trying to convey that I am available if needed. My mission here is to ensure the safety and well-being of all students, faculty and staff, which I do not take lightly,” Hallman said.

Burton has filed two complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In July 2015, the EEOC issued Burton a right-to-sue letter related to her second EEOC complaint on retaliation and discrimination. The agency determined there are grounds for a discrimination claim.

The professor alleges she has been repeatedly retaliated against over the past four-plus years simply because she has engaged in protected activity under federal law. The lawsuit filed this week alleges the university’s grievance committee refused to hold hearings regarding her complaint alleging a disciplinary letter issued by Throop was factually incorrect and included rebukes of protected activity.

UW-P and UW System officials have declined to comment on the move to dismiss Burton.

In his letter, Shields wrote that he has consulted with the Executive Committee of the Faculty Senate. The chancellor asserts — before his investigation has been completed — that he has “found that substantial harm to the institution may result if you are continued in your position.”

“I am therefore relieving you of your duties immediately,” he wrote. “Your pay will continue until a final decision is reached by the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System.”

Burton said she is being punished for standing up.

“The administration just couldn’t stand the fact that I was still on campus and holding them accountable for their corrupt business,” the professor said.

Senator: Wisconsin will move quickly on Article V resolution

Tue, 01/17/2017 - 17:02

MADISON, Wis. — By the time President Barack Obama leaves office this week, the U.S. debt will be approaching $20 trillion.

Fiscal conservatives say it’s long past time to deal with the mess.

A Wisconsin lawmaker says the Badger State will soon take a big step toward getting the federal government’s fiscal house in order.

State Sen. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield, said he will soon introduce a bill calling for Wisconsin to join the much-discussed Article V convention of the states that would draft a federal balanced budget amendment.

Another initiative elsewhere calls for a package amendment that would limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government and impose federal term limits.

The constitution includes two mechanisms to bring amendments: through Congress and by a convention the states. Under Article 5 of the U.S. Constitution, it takes two-thirds of the states to call a convention. That magic number is 34 states.

TAKE V: State Sen. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield, said he expects introduction of an Article V resolution soon. Wisconsin would join 28 other states seeking a balanced federal budget amendment.

As of late last year, a reported 28 states had gone on record in support of a convention of states to discuss a balanced budget amendment.

Eight states have passed a resolution for application for the broader package amendment, and 30 others are considering doing so, according to constitutional law attorney Michael Farris,  co-founder of the Convention of States Project.

Wisconsin is among several states with Republican-controlled legislatures expected to pass and file a resolution seeking a convention for a federal balanced budget amendment.

“Wisconsin will be rolling that out very quickly this session,” said Kapenga, chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Benefits, Licensing and State-Federal Relations.

The committee is expected to play a pivotal role in helping to restore power — grabbed over the years by the federal government — back to the states.

RELATED: Wisconsin could lead effort to restore states’ rights

Kapenga has been a leader of the Article V movement in Wisconsin and nationally.

“We’ve got the jurisdiction to amend the Constitution,” Kapenga told fellow lawmakers from across the nation during a 2014 meeting in Washington, D.C., regarding the proposed convention. “… History shows that there’s this centralization of power, and it doesn’t matter what civilization, this is a trend that you can look back on. There’s a centralization of power which always ends up leading to abuse.”

Supporters in Wisconsin have a powerful ally in Gov. Scott Walker. The Republican governor told listeners last month in a telephone town hall that he would support Wisconsin’s resolution calling for a convention of states.

Article V conventions, like the congressional process, don’t guarantee success.

“[An amendment] has to be ratified by 38 states,” Kapenga said. “That convention does not create an amendment to the Constitution. It creates the wording, just like Congress can at any point in time, for the ratification process to happen.”

The Tea Party movement in the early years of Obama’s first term in office lit a fire under the longstanding Article V movement. Several states, including New Hampshire, Ohio, Georgia, Florida, Michigan and the Dakotas, have in the past five years passed resolutions calling for a constitutional convention.

Liberals hate the idea of a balanced budget amendment in particular, and reining in federal authority in general.

“A balanced budget amendment would prevent the federal government from following the Keynesian strategy of stimulating the economy during an economic depression by increasing the national debt. (Since 1970, the United States has had a balanced budget in only four years: 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2001.),” wrote Simon Davis-Cohen last March for the liberal publication In These Times.

But $20 trillion in debt, nearly half of which is owned by foreign entities, is a recipe for disaster, insist fiscal conservatives.

“The Founders knew the federal government might one day become drunk with the abuses of power. The most important check to this power is Article V,” asserts the nonprofit free-market Convention of States, a project of Citizens for Self-Governance. The group seeks a three-pronged amendment calling for fiscal restraint, limiting the size and jurisdiction of the federal government and term limits for federal officials.

“By calling a convention of the states we can stop the federal spending and debt spree, the power grabs of the federal courts, and other misuses of federal power. The current situation is precisely what the Founders feared, and they gave us a solution we have a duty to use,” Convention of States says on its website.

Marquette says John McAdams’ suspension to continue until he apologizes

Sun, 01/15/2017 - 22:46

WAUKESHA, Wis.- Another semester is about to begin at Marquette University, and an academic freedom case that has gathered national attention continues to keep Professor John McAdams from doing what he loves most: teaching.

A Jan. 12 letter from Marquette’s legal counsel, Ralph Weber, says McAdams will continue to remain suspended because he refuses to apologize for a blog post criticizing another instructor who wouldn’t tolerate an opposing opinion on same-sex marriage in her class. 

“Dr. McAdams thus far has made clear he does not accept the standard of personal and professional excellence that generally characterizes University faculties and therefore will not provide the necessary acknowledgements and commitments,” Weber wrote.

FIGHT FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM: Professor John McAdams will remain suspended from Marquette University until he apologizes, according to a recent university letter. His legal counsel says the professor will be vindicated in court.

In a statement Friday, Rick Esenberg, president of the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL), which is representing McAdams, said the fight will continue in the courtroom.  

“We believe that Marquette has effectively discharged Professor McAdams for accurate and civil (if pointed) speech on a matter of great public and institutional interest,” said Esenberg, “This violates his contractual rights of personal expression and academic freedom. We look forward to vindicating John’s rights – and the rights of all dissenters at Marquette – in court.”

Marquette spokesman Brian Dorrington did not respond directly to the latest development. Instead he referred to a university statement made when McAdams was suspended and the faculty report asking for McAdams’ suspension.

McAdams was originally put on paid suspension in December 2014 after a blog post he wrote on his website, “Marquette Warrior,” criticized philosophy instructor and graduate student Cheryl Abbate for refusing to allow a discussion of viewpoints critical of same-sex marriage in her class at the Catholic university. The university moved to fire McAdams after the blog post went “viral” and Abbate received disturbing email. Abbate left Marquette shortly after for the doctoral program at the University of Colorado-Boulder.

McAdams, a nationally recognized expert on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, appealed to a faculty committee saying that the academic freedom in his contract protected his right to free speech. The committee issued a report in January 2016 recommending unpaid suspension for McAdams through the fall semester.

The letter from Weber reiterated the extra conditions placed on McAdams by university President Michael Lovell before he can be reinstated: “(1) acknowledgement and acceptance of the judgment of his peers; (2) affirming and committing to adherence to the standards of higher education at Marquette; and (3) acknowledgement that his blog post was reckless and incompatible with the mission and values of Marquette, and expressing regret for the harm suffered by Ms. Abbate.”

McAdams responded to Lovell’s demands in a five-page letter last April.

“If you fire me for failing to make the statements you demand, you will be committing yet another violation of the due process and the academic freedom provisions of the faculty statutes.,” McAdams said.

Lovell’s actions have placed Marquette University on the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s list of Ten Worst Universities for Free Speech.

With WILL providing legal counsel, McAdams filed suit in May for breach of contract seeking to be reinstated at the university in an academic freedom case that is being watched nationally. For McAdams, the case is not about the money.

“There is no amount of money that they could offer me to get me to walk away,” he said in an interview Friday. “If they offered me $5 million, I don’t need $5 million.” 

“It really is a matter of principle. I’m not going to let the bastards get rid of me,” McAdams said.

SEE RELATED: Marquette prof recognized for being ‘unintimidated’

On Feb. 2, Judge David Hansher will decide on motions from both sides in the case for summary judgment. If the case continues, motions will be heard on May 11 and the case is scheduled for a jury trial beginning June 19.

“It’s been two whole years that I’ve missed and it’ll be at least another semester,” McAdams said.

In the meantime, McAdams has not been in a classroom with students or allowed to use university facilities for his research. He said he’s spending his time reviewing books about the Kennedy assassination and reading Facebook.

“It’s hard to get any really scholarly projects started when I’m isolated from my office,” McAdams said. “And of course, there’s always the uncertainty. There’s always, I don’t know what’s going to happen and when it’s going to happen,” McAdams said. “Then there’s the time involved with legal matters.”

“Between all that, I’m sort of in limbo,” McAdams said. “It’s no fun being in limbo.”

Complaint of Milwaukee County legal corruption referred to attorney general, litigant says

Fri, 01/13/2017 - 16:32

MADISON, Wis. – A Milwaukee County legal corruption complaint, born out of a nasty series of business lawsuits, is apparently going to be referred to the Wisconsin Department of Justice, Wisconsin Watchdog has learned.

Emmanuel Mamalakis, a Milwaukee entrepreneur and former securities litigator, said Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm told him Thursday that he would refer the complaint.

“I had a very short, very curt phone conversation with him,” Mamalakis said. “He said, ‘In light of your public comments (to Wisconsin Watchdog), I’m closing the investigation. Am I to assume you would like me to send this to the [Wisconsin] attorney general’s office?’”

“I said, ‘Could you, please. That would be nice,” Mamalakis added.

Chisholm did not return a request for comment Friday. A spokesman for Attorney General Brad Schimel said late Friday afternoon he was trying to find out whether Chisholm forwarded the complaint to the DOJ.

CALLING CORRUPTION: Milwaukee entrepreneur and attorney Emmanuel Mamalakis alleges corruption and misconduct in the Milwaukee County Court.

Mamalakis, a litigant in multiple lawsuits involving his former company,  SXP Analytics LLC, accuses Milwaukee-based O’Neil, Cannon, Hollman DeJong & Laing SC, the court-appointed receiver for SXP’s assets, of conspiring with Quantlab Technologies Ltd. of Houston in an egregious breach of fiduciary duty.

And Mamalakis alleges that Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Paul Van Grunsven turned a blind eye to the law firm’s alleged double-dealing because of his ties to a cadre of politically connected local attorneys.

Quantlab, an SXP competitor in the secret arena of high-frequency trading firm, was viewed as SXP’s “Enemy No. 1,” “adverse to every party” in the Milwaukee receivership case. Quantlab sued SXP and two of its minority owners in a drawn-out intellectual property lawsuit, claiming two former employees stole trade secrets and used them in helping start SXP. Quantlab won in court and is  poised to receive tens of millions of dollars in settlements, although the decisions are being appealed.

According to court documents, Mamalakis alleges that O’Neil, Cannon, Hollman DeJong & Laing SC and Seth Dizzard, the firm’s attorney who served as receiver, combined with an SXP minority partner “for the purpose of willfully and maliciously injuring Mamalakis and his reputation, trade, business profession in exchange for receipt of financial benefit.”

Mamalakis alleges the receiver did legal work for Quantlab, SXP’s main adversary, while it was legally bound to serve the interests of the receivership. The reason? Mamalakis asserts the receiver and his firm were leveraging for a big pay day if Quantlab won its lawsuits against SXP.

“This is clear-cut misconduct in public office and bribery,” he said. “They took money they were not allowed to take and lied in their filings about it.”

The law firm has vehemently denied the allegations in multiple court proceedings and in an interview with Wisconsin Watchdog. An attorney for the firm tells Wisconsin Watchdog that multiple courts have found the firm’s conduct appropriate and legal.

On Thursday, Milwaukee County Judge Glenn Yamahiro closed the receivership without taking up Mamalakis’ allegations. Yamahiro said he did not want to contravene his fellow judge’s earlier ruling.

Mamalakis’ claims Van Grunsven’s decision in 2015 tossing out the misconduct complaints was not only wrong but illegal.

RELATED: Litigant in messy legal battle alleges corruption in Milwaukee County court

In 2014, Mamalakis sued the law firm demanding that it turn over its billing statements, among other documents. He said he grew increasingly concerned after the receiver alleged Mamalakis had siphoned millions of dollars from the company before it dissolved. Mamalakis has repeatedly said the allegations are not true.

In court, attorneys for O’Neil, Cannon, Hollman DeJong & Laing SC, told  Van Grunsven, the judge, that they could not release the requested information because it might violate attorney-client privilege. Instead, they sought a private, off-the-record meeting with Van Grunsven.

At first, the judge pressed for answers in court.

“I will ask this question, and I was told previously not to ask it, but is Quantlab in any way funding the receiver’s work?” Van Grunsven asked firm attorney Joseph Newbold at a November 2014 hearing.

“Your honor, we would like to answer that question in camera, and we believe that once you hear that, that answer to our question in camera, you’ll understand the reason why we want to answer that question in camera,” Newbold told the judge.

While Newbold declined to tell Wisconsin Watchdog whether his firm billed Quantlab for legal services, he did reiterate that the scope of the receiver’s job includes creditors of the receivership.

The judge raised the point that Mamalakis and his attorneys pushed, that the receiver has an exclusive fiduciary – or financial trust – duty to SXP.

“And that means doing everything in your power to avoid a judgment by Quantlab against SXP,” the judge said.

Van Grunsven said he was reluctant to take Newbold up on his offer to go into a private session “because I can’t memorialize or have a record should that become an issue later.”

The judge pointed to court ruling that seemed to back Mamalakis’ position.

”The United States Supreme Court has opined that a Receiver may not place itself in a position where its personal interests may be antagonistic to those of the estate it is administering,” the judge read in court. “It may not deal with Receivership property to benefit itself at the expense of the estate, and it may not profit from its Receivership except through compensation approved by the court.”

Van Grunsven agreed to meet with the receiver’s attorneys privately in his chambers and placed under seal the explanation the law firm provided on the Quantlab question.

And in January 2015, he dismissed Mamalakis’ complaint, claiming in part that the receiver and his attorneys enjoyed “quasi-immunity.” Not if they broke the law, Mamalakis argued, to no avail.

He took the case to Chisholm. Chisholm sat on it, he said.

Mamalakis said he was asked by one of Chisholm’s “political people” to keep the SXP case quiet until after Chisholm’s 2016 re-election bid.

“He said, ‘John is facing a tough election and this could flare up and be trouble for him.’ I was told to be a good soldier.”

As a generous and prominent member of Milwaukee County’s Democratic Party establishment, Mamalakis said he played the part of the good soldier again, hoping that the DA would do something with his case.

But when Mamalakis was told once more to be a good soldier and stay quiet until Van Grunsven got through his re-election bid this spring, he said he had had enough.

Mamalakis claims the Milwaukee County Democratic Party machine, including Chisholm, didn’t want any trouble with their allies on the court and in the legal community. Because the case involved a Milwaukee County judge, Mamalakis said Chisholm should have forwarded the complaint to another jurisdiction from the start, as is common practice.

“At the end of the day, I guess this is what it had to take,” he said. “Part of me is still a little in shock that it took an article in the media to jar [Chisholm] to do the right thing. Unfortunately, the even sadder part is he is now mad at me. That is sad.”

Amid Milwaukee politics, autopsy shows inmate died of natural causes

Fri, 01/13/2017 - 15:22

MADISON, Wis. – While U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore and the left-wing political attack machine blame Sheriff David Clarke for the four deaths at the Milwaukee County Jail last year, a final autopsy confirms what Clarke has said all along: Inmates die from natural causes, and politicians make noise.

The autopsy, obtained by Wisconsin Watchdog, shows Michael Madden, 29, died in October of infective endocarditis with myocarditis — acute heart disease.

As Wisconsin Watchdog reported last month, Madden, who was pronounced dead at 2:23 a.m. on Oct. 28, had a history of drug abuse and problems from mitral valve prolapse, according to the medical examiner’s report.

The Milwaukee County Medical Examiner’s final autopsy details the natural causes that conspired to claim the Franklin man’s life.

Chief among them, infective endocarditis, an infection of the endocardial surface of the heart. The defect may lead to intractable congestive heart failure and myocardial abscesses.

“If left untreated, is generally fatal,” emedicine notes.

Madden’s mother, Gail Stockton, told investigators that Madden had been diagnosed at the age of 4 with a mitral valve prolapse, which had never been corrected. He also had aortic stenosis, one of the most common and most serious valve disease problems.

SHOOTING BACK: Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke says the media and liberal politicians have used inmate deaths as a political bludgeon to go after the outspoken conservative sheriff.

Madden was among three inmates to die at the jail overseen by Clarke in a six-month period. Another inmate gave birth to a stillborn baby. Claiming she did so without jail or medical staff helping when she went into labor, 30-year-old Shade Swayzer is now suing the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Department for $8.5 million. Autopsy and investigative reports appear to show inconsistencies with Swayzer’s story to the press.

Moore, a Milwaukee Democrat, has joined a chorus of Clarke-hating local liberal officials blasting the sheriff for the inmate deaths. Moore, like her fellow party members and many in the mainstream media, have made their very public indignation a political assault on the conservative sheriff, who has been a key and vocal supporter of Republican President-elect Donald Trump.

“I’m alarmed,” Moore told Business Insider this week. “Particularly when I continue to hear from staffers from President-elect Trump that they’re still looking for a place to put Sheriff Clarke (in the administration) in an area of security. And this is very, very concerning.”

Business Insider approached the story in much the same way other publications have, focusing more on the outspoken Clarke’s ties to Trump than the actual facts surrounding the deaths.

“Over the last year, four people have died at the jail overseen by Clarke, who has come under fire from locals who say he has neglected his job while chasing stardom with his hard-nosed punditry,” Business Insider’s Allan Smith wrote.

Clarke has pushed back on the political posturing and journalistic “hit pieces.”

The sheriff is firing back.

“While Dem politicians play politics with the deceased, I had the discipline and decency to wait until the science (autopsy) came back with a finding and cause of death before commenting,” Clarke said in an email to Wisconsin Watchdog.

“The Journal Sentinel, CBS58, FOX6, CH12, TMJ4 could not resist to manufacture fake news because Sheriff Clarke was being politically attacked. Why let the facts get in the way of a good story no matter how untrue.

“Let’s see what attention this cause and manner of death this truth finder report gets,” Clarke added.

Ultimately, while the sheriff oversees the jail, the private health care provider responsible for assessing and monitoring the health of inmates is bound by a county contract. Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, not Clarke, is charged with handling the private provider.

Clarke’s critics have built a narrative of jail mismanagement, particularly pointing to the death of inmate Terrill J. Thomas, 38, of Milwaukee.

‘ALARMED’: U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Milwaukee, says she’s ‘alarmed’ by the deaths at the Milwaukee County jail. Clarke counters Moore and her liberal friends are playing ‘politics with the deceased.’

Thomas was found unresponsive in his cell in the early morning hours of April 24, nine days after he was arrested on a charge of shooting a man in the chest and later firing two shots in the Potawatomi casino.

The autopsy lists the cause of death as dehydration. It describes the severity as “profound dehydration.”  The manner of death was classified as a homicide, but that does not necessarily denote a crime was committed.

Inmates told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel they could hear Thomas beg for water days before his death and that his faucet had been shut off. They said corrections officers told them his water was turned off because he had flooded his previous cell and was acting erratically, the newspaper reported.

A source close to the situation told Wisconsin Watchdog that jailers provided Thomas with bottled water but he refused to drink. Another source said a county judge had visited the jail days before and asked why there was water all over Thomas’ cell.

The autopsy notes jail staff checked on Thomas every half hour, in accordance with protocol. A source close to the situation said jailers did not alert medical staff that Thomas had stopped drinking his bottled water, however.

But the medical examiner’s report also notes the inmate’s record indicated “that he claimed to have untreated diabetes and hypertension upon admission and he was not taking any medication while in the jail.”

Thomas had high levels of creatinine, a waste product in the blood. If too much builds up in the blood stream, creatinine attacks various organs and systems through the circulatory system. Healthy adults’ creatinine levels range from .6 to 1.2 milligrams per deciliter. Thomas’ level was at 3.9, according to the autopsy.

A persistently high creatinine level can reveal the extent of kidney damage.

What has been buried in the coverage is the fact that the three inmates who died at the Milwaukee County Jail this year were some very unhealthy people dealing with the ramifications of drug abuse and serious physical illnesses, according to autopsies.

“Two inmates suffered from severe cardiac disease, which became critical when coupled with the effects of hardcore drug usage prior to their incarceration, with their extensive drug histories independently noted in their death investigations,” Clarke told Wisconsin Watchdog last month.

RELATED: Death part of life in county jails

Statewide, as of late December, there were 20 inmate deaths in Wisconsin’s jails in 2016, nine of those suicides, according to Department of Corrections statistics.

Nationally, a total of 1,053 inmates died while in the custody of local jails in 2014, the latest data available, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. 

Over the last two years, the Milwaukee County Jail has recorded four deaths, all in 2016. Eight inmates have died at the jail since 2011.

The smaller Brown County Jail in Green Bay experienced three inmate deaths in 2014 and 2015; two were last year, both of those suicides. Outagamie County’s corrections facility in Appleton also has recorded three deaths over the period.

Kenosha County, as of late December, had recorded nine inmate deaths, all suicides, since 2013.

Dane and Waukesha county jails each have noted three deaths since 2015. Little Monroe County, with an average inmate population of 111, documented two deaths over the period.

But those county jails are not led by conservative, outspoken sheriffs like Clarke, who has been highly critical of the mainstream media and liberal politicians, nor are those counties’ sheriffs nationally prominent Trump supporters.

“This has everything to do with politics and my support of Donald Trump,” he told Wisconsin Watchdog last month. “These people are invested in bringing me down.”