Some commenters here and lefty bloggers are in a dither about my post criticizing their own Chris Liebenthal for being less than forthcoming about his own past when discussing a current investigation of unknown persons for unknown behavior which may have something to do with political activity by Milwaukee County employees on County time or using County resources. Or not.
I don't often engage with other local bloggers (and am generally told that I should do less of it) because there are relatively few local bloggers on the left with the slightest interest in engaging in responsive and minimally courteous discourse. But I did start it and it could be that the point was too subtle. Or perhaps I failed to make my point clear so I'll try again.
First, I am not claiming that Mr. Liebenthal's conduct is the same as whatever is being investigated in the current John Doe proceeding in Milwaukee County. I am not claiming that they are similar because I can't compare them at all. I don't know who or what is being investigated in that proceeding - and neither does Chris Liebenthal, Emily Mills, Tom Foley or any one else who seems so eager to comment on it. Responding to my post, Mr. Liebenthal writes "Mr. Esenberg, we do know a lot more about Walkergate than you are indicating." If he does know more, I sure can't find it on his blog.
In fact, just about anyone who does know anything is under order of the court to keep their mouth shut. Given that there are a number of people out there who are quite loquacious on the subject, I must assume that they are complying with the law and, therefore, don't know a damn thing. A case in point is that this post by Ms. Mills which claims there to be a "seemingly shady deals between Gov. Scott Walker and his various friends/aides" and the the investigation is "circling ever closer" to Walker for whom it reeks. She then proceeds to offer absolutely no evidence for any of that.
Second, I am claiming that Mr. Liebenthal's conduct is not unlike what we do know actually happened and what seems to have prompted the investigation, e.g., the fact that Darlene Wink posted comments to the Journal Sentinel's website. It is not unlike the only specific things that Mr. Liebenthal has managed to refer to in a number of posts, e.g., a County official doing "noncounty work on county time." Everything else is what is known in the business world as a SWAG.
I do understand the natural desire to speculate on what might be going on. But in light of the nature of the limited information that is available, it seems to me that if Mr. Liebenthal wants to comment on the subject, he ought to be forthcoming about his own past. I say that only because he is the one who decided to write a "primer" on the subject in which he pulled a great deal of innuendo out of nothing more than stuff that looks alot like what he did and the fact that someone is investigating something.
Third and ironically Mr. Liebenthal himself seems to have recognized that he should say something. But what he said was not forthright. He acknowledges the complaints against him but then blows them off by saying only that the supporting documentation was "irresponsible." This implies that he was exonerated and that the whole thing is part of a narrative about Republican chicanery. The fact is that the complaints led to his suspension without pay for ten days. If you're going to mention it, tell the whole story.
Fourth, I did not claim that Liebenthal was "blogging" at work or misrepresent publicly available information about what he did. I noted that the District Attorney's office issued a statement that said he had engaged in "extensive blogging." I explained that later reports claimed that the Assistant District Attorney for Milwaukee County in charge of political corruption apparently did not know what "blogging" is and that Liebenthal had only been reading political blogs. These later reports - reading but not writing - seem to have been affirmed by the Mr. Liebenthal's superiors and apparently by the ADA himself. I linked to them - or at least to the ones that I found.
I agree that, depending on the question we are asking, the difference between reading a blog and posting a comment could be significant. But in this context and particularly when he himself brought it up, I think its close enough to warrant some mention.
Fifth, my point is not that Mr. Liebenthal did something "terrible." It is embarrassing, of course, because he has quite vocally complained that Scott Walker has slashed and burned County resources so as to impair the ability of beleaguered county employees to deliver essential services. Yet he seems to have had the time - a lot of time apparently - to do something other than attend to his job.
In fact, both now and back when the story broke, I wrote that it wasn't so terrible. In fact, I repeated in this post what I wrote before the District Attorney issued his statement. I did not think that the accusations against Mr. Liebenthal should have resulted in criminal charges whether or not he blogged at work. I thought then - I think now - that they were a personnel matter and were properly handled as such.
Let me even clearer. I don't think he should have resigned (as Wink did) and I am not even sure that he should have been suspended without pay. It actually seems a bit harsh to me. But, then again, I don't have the details. He must have done an awful lot of "reading" to get suspended for ten days.
But here's the thing. I don't know - and he doesn't know - that any of the people that he thinks are being investigated did anything worse. He doesn't know that the Governor did anything at all. When he knows something, then he can crow. But if he wants to engage in "where's there's smoke" reasoning, he ought to be complete in describing his own fire.
That leads to my sixth - and probably most important - point which I fear I did not make clear. Mr. Liebenthal and his supporters claimed in the past - and claim now - that he was disserved by a rush to judgment. As one of the commenters to my post rather crudely puts it, they became "tumescent" without having the facts. Whether or not that's so (in some cases, the conservative bloggers were merely reporting what the DA's office said), there is a worthwhile point to be preserved. One ought to be careful - and decent - in discussing unproven allegations about others. One would have hoped that Chris Liebenthal's experience taught him the virtue of temperance.
But here he is, excuse the phrase, quite "tumescent" about what he can't possibly know. He implies the Governor's involvement in whatever is being investigated by calling it "Walkergate." He pronounces the Governor "tainted" and the matter "sordid." He says that something he can't even describe is "big, very big." (In fact, so eager is Mr. Liebenthal to accuse his political opponents of wrongdoing that he suggests there is scandal in Robin Vos being in Madison on a day that the legislature was not in session. Because ... what? We wouldn't want our lawmakers to be working on legislation, meeting with other public officials or, like, actually doing their homework?)
There may turn out to be a Walkergate. But even if there does, all of this schadenfreude won't be vindicated. The fact remains that Mr. Liebenthal doesn't know that the Governor or anyone close to the Governor - or anyone at all for that matter - is guilty of serious misconduct. He only wishes it to be so just as he believes that others wrongly wished for him to be fired or carted away.
Finally, there is a suggestion in some of the comments that "everyone does it" and Mr. Liebenthal just got caught because of the actions of the CRG. He didn't do what they thought but it put him under the microscope and who among us can survive that and come out unscathed? I don't know if that's what happened here but it's a observation worth pausing over. Increasingly, we fight our political wars by trying to destroy people we disagree with. It is a rare campaign in which opposition researchers can't find some flaw in the past of the other candidate and we aren't very good at keeping a sense of perspective about these things.
I'm not sure that Chris Liebenthal has much standing to complain about this. He blogs nasty as illustrated by the fact that his reaction to an assault on a state legislator is to speculate on whether the legislator did something wrong.
But it's still worth keeping in mind.
Finally, two points of personal privilege. Those with a life can go elsewhere. Mr. Liebenthal says - oh wait, Esenberg used his Marquette address in a filing to court on behalf of a client and that must be wrong. It certainly would have been contrary to the Dean's policy. It is the preference of Marquette Law School that faculty members not publicly identify as associated with the University when representing clients and that they use an alternative address. (That is not the case with respect to commenting on matters of public policy. Quite the opposite, actually.)
But here Mr. Liebenthal once again fails to make the basic inquiries that he insists upon from others. To the best of my recollection, I never filed a document in any court that used my Marquette address. To the contrary, I specifically instructed my co-counsel that this address never be used. The incident Mr. Liebenthal refers to arose when the clerk's office used my MULS address - which it had for other purposes - in a mailing to counsel instead of the address which we had used on our pleadings. When the clerk's office typed in my name, the MULS address came up. One phone call fixed the problem.
A commenter wants to know if I ever did anything at Marquette similar to what Mr. Liebentha admitted to doing at Milwaukee County, directing my attention to MU's Authorized Use Policy which, I have to admit, I don't recall having seen before. The short answer is I don't think so.
He fails to understand that the traditional responsibility of faculty - teaching, scholarship and service - is quite broad so that it is difficult to say that much of anything is outside the scope of organizational purposes. As much as the commenter might not understand, commenting on matters of public policy was something that I was expressly expected to do at MULS. There is a difference between "political" in that sense and "political" in the sense of organized political activity that would, for example, be subject to the campaign finance laws or IRS limitations on nonprofits. I don't really do that type of thing.
Having said that, I'm sure that I used my MULS e-mail account - although perhaps not my computer or office - for purposes other than work. I may have even used it for ordering my wife flowers. People have used it as a way for people to get in touch with me on a variety of things. I don't have fixed work hours and, at least until the past few months, much of a fixed work place. In fact, the MU AUP recognizes that such things will happen and makes clear that it is a privilege to be tolerated and not a right of employees and other users.
But Mr. Liebenthal didn't get in trouble for sending e-mails from his work account. There seems to have been a bit more going on there.
More fundamentally, I'm not the one that is speculating about grave wrongdoing by others when the only thing that I know for sure is something that I myself have done. When I blog about someone's use of their work e-mail address, I'll be sure to make a note of it.