randa

Judge Rudolph Randa

A decision last week from U.S. District Court Judge Rudolph Randa that ordered the immediate end to a lengthy investigation into Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign and a number of conservative groups was notable in its pointed denunciation of prosecutors for, as Randa saw it, needlessly harassing groups engaged in constitutionally-protected speech.

The decision was met with shock by a number of legal experts who saw the move of stopping an investigation before charges had even been issued as groundbreaking. The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals responded by immediately staying the decision and is currently in the process of reviewing the case.

This is not the first time that Randa, who was appointed to the bench by President George H.W. Bush in 1992, has angered liberals with controversial decisions that were later overturned on appeal or are currently in the appeals process. Liberal blog ThinkProgress rounds up three notable decisions:

In a case that also centered on government ethics, Randa sentenced Georgia Thompson to 18 months in prison after a jury convicted the Doyle administration official of improperly steering a state contract to a political ally. After several months behind bars, Thompson was freed when the 7th District Court of Appeals tossed out the conviction, calling the evidence “beyond thin.”

In 1994, after a group of anti-abortion protesters were arrested for physically blocking the entrance to a Milwaukee health clinic, Randa ruled the federal law that they violated, the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, was unconstitutional. Randa reasoned that Congress exceeded its authority in passing such a law, arguing that the matter at hand — blockades of local abortion clinics — did not affect interstate commerce and was therefore not subject to federal intervention.

The 7th District Court of Appeals also reversed that decision, finding that health clinics are “engaged in interstate commerce.”

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Finally, in a case the Court of Appeals is scheduled to hear argued on June 2, Randa ruled last year that those seeking damages against the Archdiocese of Milwaukee in sexual abuse cases could not force the Church to dip into nearly $60 million that its former archbishop, Timothy Dolan, had transferred into a segregated cemetery fund.

Documents released last year showed that Dolan had informed Church officials in 2007 that he had transferred the money with the express intent of safeguarding it from lawsuits, but Randa ruled that once the money had been put into the cemetery trust, plaintiffs could not gain access to it. To do so, he wrote, would “substantially burden the (Church’s) free exercise of religion.”

Jack Craver is the Capital Times political reporter, focusing on elections, candidates and campaign finance.