John T. Chisholm

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John T. Chisholm
Born John Theodore Chisholm
March 14, 1963
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S.
Nationality American
Occupation District Attorney of Milwaukee County, Wisconsin
Predecessor E. Michael McCann
Political party
Spouse(s) Colleen Chisholm

John Theodore Chisholm (born March 14, 1963) is an American prosecutor and the district attorney of Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, serving since 2007. Prior to his election as district attorney, Chisholm was an assistant district attorney in the office, supervising its gun-crime unit. Chisholm has prosecuted several notable cases in Milwaukee, including those of Milwaukee alderman Michael McGee, Jr., serial killer Walter Ellis, and several associates of Wisconsin Governor Scott K. Walker. Conservative groups have criticized Chisholm for initiating an investigation into possible violations of Wisconsin's campaign finance laws during the 2012 Wisconsin gubernatorial recall election.


Chisholm was raised in Menomonee Falls and Elm Grove, both located in Waukesha County. He graduated from Marquette University High School in 1981 and attended St. John's University and Marquette University, graduating from the latter in 1985.[citation needed]

Between 1985 and 1988, Chisholm enlisted in the U.S. Army and was stationed in the Korean demilitarized zone, rising to the rank of first lieutenant. In 1994, Chisholm graduated from the University of Wisconsin Law School. He was hired that year as an assistant district attorney by E. Michael McCann, then the district attorney of Milwaukee County. In 1999, Chisholm was selected as supervisor of McCann's firearms enforcement unit.[1]

In 2005, McCann announced his intention to retire at the end of his term; Chisholm entered the race to succeed him. After defeating former Milwaukee alderwoman Larraine McNamara-McGraw in the Democratic primary, Chisholm easily bested criminal defense attorney Lew Wasserman, an independent, in the general election.[citation needed]

Tenure as district attorney[edit]

As district attorney, Chisholm established a public integrity unit, resulting in the prosecution of Milwaukee alderman Michael McGee, Jr., who was later convicted in U.S. District Court of crimes including bribery and extortion. McGee was also convicted of two state crimes, to which he pled nolo contendere.[2] Chisholm's office has prosecuted other officials, including Milwaukee County supervisor Toni Clark,[3] who pled guilty when charged with filing a false campaign finance report. Supervisor Johnny Thomas was prosecuted in 2012 for bribery, but was acquitted at trial.[4]

Chisholm also investigated and prosecuted violent offenders, including preacher and Milwaukee crime figure Michael Lock, who was later featured in the American Greed program on CNBC. He prosecuted Walter E. Ellis, a serial killer who targeted prostitutes in Milwaukee for two decades.[citation needed]

Scott Walker investigation and controversy[edit]

Between 2010 and 2013, Chisholm's office investigated staff and campaign supporters of Scott Walker, then the Milwaukee County executive and the Governor of Wisconsin from 2011, through the state's "John Doe" investigatory process, which is unique to Wisconsin.[5] This process permits prosecutors to call witnesses in closed hearings before a judge, who can compel testimony by granting witnesses immunity.[6] The investigation resulted in four felony convictions, including those of Timothy Russell and Kelly Rindfleisch, who had both served as deputy chiefs of staff for Walker.[7] Rindfleisch pled guilty in 2012 to one felony count of misconduct in office for raising money on county time for Brett Davis' failed bid for lieutenant governor. She was sentenced to six months in jail and three years of probation. She unsuccessfully appealed the conviction; her arguments that prosecutors violated her constitutional rights with overly broad search warrants were rejected by the Wisconsin Court of Appeals.[8] Russell was convicted of stealing more than $21,000 from a veterans organization, Operation Freedom, which Walker had named him to lead, and sentenced to 2 years in prison.[9][10]

During the course of this investigation, Chisholm and fellow Milwaukee County prosecutors decided to persecute Scott Walker's supporters and initiated a probe of possible campaign finance violations during the Wisconsin gubernatorial recall election of 2012. When their pro-union political motivations became public, Chisholm and four other Wisconsin district attorneys turned over management of this investigation to former Assistant United States Attorney Francis Schmitz.[11] This investigation received criticism from Republicans and from conservative journalists and activists, who alleged it to be a partisan undertaking against Walker's supporters.[1] The British Daily Mail reported claims that Chisholm had pursued Walker's staff and almost thirty conservative nonprofit groups for personal reasons. A close family friend of the Chisholms, Michael W. Lutz, who was employed by Chisholm as a short-term special prosecutor, alleged that Chisholm "was motivated by weeping complaints from his wife, a schoolteacher and labor shop steward whose union stood to lose if Walker's policies prevailed"[12] Chisholm denied this, and his own attorney, Samuel Leib, denounced the allegation as "scurrilous, desperate, and just plain cheap"[13] Republican activist Eric O'Keefe sued Chisholm and two assistant district attorneys in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, alleging the commission of civil rights violations during the course of the investigation.[citation needed]

The Daily Mail and syndicated columnist George Will also reported that, as part of this investigation, leaders of "virtually every conservative political nonprofit" in Wisconsin were subjected to the execution of pre-dawn search warrants. These claims further alleged that armed police corralled children and prevented these individuals from contacting lawyers, the latter under the purview of a gag order inherent to the John Doe process.[12] Chisholm's attorneys disputed these allegations, which they stating had originated with O'Keefe, whose home was not raided, and that they lacked an evidentiary basis.[14]

Kenosha County Circuit Judge Barbara A. Kluka, the original judge who had presided over the Doe investigations for more than a year, recused herself without explanation from the case on October 29, 2013. She has been accused of "rubber stamping every petition, subpoena, and search warrant in the case”. The director of state courts than assigned Judge Gregory Peterson to the case. He promptly quashed several subpoenas because he said prosecutors had failed to show probable cause that a campaign finance crime had been committed.[15]

Federal judge Rudolph Randa acted on O'Keefe's filings and issued a preliminary injunction against Chisholm and his co-defendants. Randa[16] was criticized for his decision and ultimately overturned by the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, which dismissed the lawsuit. Shortly thereafter, Randa acted in another lawsuit naming Chisholm, telling the state Government Accountability Board that it could not enforce a controversial section of Wisconsin campaign finance law. Randa ruled that this section impeded the First Amendment rights of conservatives associated with the Milwaukee-based Citizens for Responsible Government.[17] Eight days later, on October 22, Judge Randa extended his temporary restraining order blocking enforcement of the law until November 12. He issued the original order on October 14, which would have expired on October 28 without further action. Randa set oral arguments in the case for October 31, 2014. The lawsuit challenging the law was filed by Citizens for Responsible Government Advocates.[18]

A Cornell Law School professor, William A. Jacobson, described Chisholm's purported motivation for commencing the John Doe investigation as "chilling". Jacobson claimed that "no one has been able to explain why District Attorney John Chisholm has gone to the lengths he has gone to try to find criminal conduct that could taint Governor Walker. If this new information is accurate, now we know the motivation, and there needs to be an investigation of the investigators."[12]

Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke, Jr. said that “Chisholm has turned into a hyper-partisan politician instead of being a law enforcement officer by abandoning his duty to protect law abiding society. He has turned the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office into an institution of government that puts partisan politics ahead of protecting society from violent career criminals. He has gone soft on criminals and tough on political adversaries.”[19]

After denying a request by conservative activist Chris Kliesmet, a member of Citizens for Responsible Government, for an investigation into Chisholm's conduct, Dodge County District Attorney Kurt F. Klomberg asked 49 other district attorneys around the state whether they would be able to take on the case. One did not reply and all the others declined, citing either conflicts of interest or a lack of resources. State Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, a Republican, declined to take the case due to conflict of interest. Dodge County, Wisconsin circuit judge Steven Bauer, a Democrat, ruled, on November 6, 2014, that Chisholm had acted "in good faith" and noted the campaign finance laws used as the investigation's basis "were and are arguably still enforceable."[20][21]


  1. ^ a b Gunn, Erik (January 21, 2013). "Invisible No More". Milwaukee Magazine. Retrieved February 17, 2014. 
  2. ^ Diedrich, John (November 14, 2008). "McGee pleads no contest to two state charges". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Retrieved August 18, 2013. 
  3. ^ Schultze, Steve (March 5, 2010). "Toni Clark gets six months in jail". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Retrieved August 18, 2013. 
  4. ^ Schultze, Steve (August 24, 2012). "Jury acquits Thomas on bribery, misconduct charges". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Retrieved August 18, 2013. 
  5. ^ "Wisconsin is the only state to use such a system. A state or two may have laws similar to Wisconsin's John Doe statute, he said, but he could find no evidence they had been used for decades.",; accessed April 21, 2015.
  6. ^ Explanation of what a "John Doe investigation" is,; accessed November 8, 2014.
  7. ^ Bice, Daniel; Dave Umhoefer (March 2, 2013). "John Doe probe of Scott Walker office closed with no new charges". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Retrieved August 18, 2013. 
  8. ^ Jason Stein, "Appeals Court rejects Rindfleisch appeal of John Doe conviction"; accessed November 28, 2014.
  9. ^ Former Walker aide Timothy Russell reaches plea deal, November 29, 2012; accessed November 8, 2014.
  10. ^ Steve Schultze, "Ex-Walker aide Timothy Russell sentenced to 2 years in prison for veterans theft", Wisconsin Journal Sentinel, January 22, 2013; accessed November 8, 2014.
  11. ^ Umhoefer, Dave. "Special prosecutor rejects Scott Walker's 'partisan' take on John Doe". Retrieved November 29, 2014. 
  12. ^ a b c Martosko, David,Daily Mail report on Chisholm's "John Doe" investigations,; accessed November 5, 2014.
  13. ^ Stein, Jason. "DA John Chisholm denies Doe probe a political vendetta". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Retrieved November 28, 2014. 
  14. ^ Stein, Jason. "Prosecutors: No evidence of aggressive raids in Doe probe". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Retrieved November 29, 2014. 
  15. ^ French, David. "Wisconsin's Shame: 'I Thought It Was a Home Invasion'". National Review. Retrieved April 21, 2015. 
  16. ^ Bice, Daniel. "Federal Judges Lynn Adelman, Rudolph Randa are polar opposites". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Retrieved November 28, 2014. 
  17. ^ Judge Randa's October 14, 2014 ruling regarding DA Chisholm's "John Doe" investigations,; accessed November 5, 2014.
  18. ^ Judge extends block on Wisconsin campaign law",, October 22, 2014; accessed November 5, 2014.
  19. ^ French, David. "Wisconsin’s Shame: Sheriff Clarke Weighs In". National Review. Retrieved April 23, 2015. 
  20. ^ Stein, Jason. "Judge won't launch a probe of prosecutors in John Doe case". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Retrieved November 28, 2014. 
  21. ^ Judge Bauer won't launch probe of "John Doe" prosecutors,; accessed November 28, 2014.