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MADISON - Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen today released a formal opinion in response to an inquiry from Wood County District Attorney Todd P. Wolf. Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen's formal opinion addresses how 2007 Wisconsin Act 1 has impacted the prosecution of potential violations of the election laws, lobby laws, and ethics laws. 2007 Wisconsin Act 1 created the Government Accountability Board and also granted certain kinds of prosecutorial authority to the Board.
Van Hollen identified three major changes from past practice that have occurred as the result of the passage of 2007 Wisconsin Act 1. One major change is that the Board may now prosecute civil forfeiture actions under the election laws, lobby laws, and ethics laws directly in circuit court. Van Hollen indicated that the Legislature did not specify that the Board must or should await the outcome of proceedings independently initiated by a district attorney. Van Hollen also indicated that the Legislature also did not require district attorneys to await the outcome of investigations that can or are being conducted by the Board.
Another major change identified by Van Hollen is that criminal and civil violations of the election laws, lobby laws, and ethics laws must now be prosecuted in the prosecutorial unit where the defendant resides. A non-resident of Wisconsin must be prosecuted in the prosecutorial unit where the offense is alleged to have occurred.
A third major change identified by Van Hollen is that matters referred to district attorneys or the Attorney General after an investigation by the Board must now follow a sequential, time-sensitive process under which one statutorily-designated prosecutor is responsible for the matter referred and is required to report to the Board.
Van Hollen also advised that district attorneys continue to be able to seek legal advice, certain kinds of prosecutorial assistance, and appropriate investigatory assistance from the Department of Justice with respect to items arising under the election laws, lobby laws, and ethics laws. Van Hollen further advised that Department of Justice attorneys may still be appointed as special prosecutors to serve in lieu of district attorneys in connection with such matters.
A copy of the original request and Attorney General Van Hollen's formal opinion can be below: