By Lorraine Bailey, Courthouse News
CHICAGO (CN) – The Seventh Circuit threw out civil rights claims filed by a former aide to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker whose home was searched amid a campaign-finance investigation that Republicans called a partisan witch hunt.
“Although this case presents troubling accusations of a politically motivated investigation, [Cynthia] Archer has not met her burden in overcoming the defendants’ invocation of qualified immunity,” Judge Diane Wood wrote for a three-judge panel in Tuesday’s opinion.
Cynthia “Cindy” Archer sued two years ago over an early-morning search of her home in 2011 stemming from Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm’s investigation into campaign-finance crimes.
Investigators were searching for evidence that Gov. Scott Walker and his team illegally coordinated with outside special interest groups for the 2012 gubernatorial election. Walker had been Milwaukee county executive at the time, and Archer worked as one of his aides.
She claimed her ordeal was part of a politically motivated campaign of harassment orchestrated by Chisholm, a Democrat, against Walker and his staff over the controversial Act 10 legislation that limited the power of public-employee unions.
While Archer initially claimed that investigators ransacked her home and threw the warrant at her without reading it, audio of the raid contradicted this story.
A federal judge dismissed the case last year, finding that the prosecutors are entitled to qualified immunity, and the Seventh Circuit agreed Tuesday.
“There is nothing in the complaint to suggest that Archer’s personal support of Governor Walker played a role in the investigation,” Wood said, finding that Archer’s work on Act 10 was clearly made within the bounds of her employment as a state official, limiting her First Amendment claims.
The Chicago-based appeals court noted that the investigators had probable cause to search Archer’s home – at least four people were convicted as a result of the investigation, including members of Walker’s staff, for violating state campaign-finance laws.
Further, the presence of a battering ram and the officers’ entry into her home with guns drawn does not independently render the search unreasonable.
“Although Archer was undoubtedly startled to wake up to armed police at her door with a battering ram in the yard, they never used that device, and they quickly holstered their guns. Apprehension that the police might do something falls short of a showing that they actually did use objectively abusive tactics,” Wood wrote. “We take Archer at her word that the officers’ demeanor was rude and that they were disrespectful, but the Supreme Court has never held that the Fourth Amendment protects against those problems.” (Emphasis in original.)
Since Archer filed her lawsuit, the Republican-dominated Wisconsin Supreme Court put a stop to Chisholm’s investigation and ordered him to have all 6 million documents obtained from the John Doe investigations destroyed or brought to the high court under seal.
The U.S. Supreme Court declined in October to hear Chisholm’s appeal of that ruling.