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Profile: John Burr

John Burr was a participant or observer in the following events:

Former Wisconsin procurement officer Georgia Thompson, wrongly convicted of corruption in 2006 (see 2001 and June 13, 2006) and freed by an appeals court in 2007 (see April 5, 2007) amid speculation that her prosecution was politically motivated (see April 7-10, 2007, April 16, 2007, and April 24, 2007), was pressured by federal prosecutors to turn on high-ranking Democrats in Wisconsin state government, according to officials involved in the case. In return, prosecutors promised leniency or dropping the charges in their entirety. Her lawyer, Stephen Hurley, says prosecutors wanted her to testify against Governor Jim Doyle (D-WI), the then-Department of Administration Secretary Marc Marotta, and other elected officials. The pressure came from US Attorney Steven Biskupic and others in his office, according to Hurley and co-counsel Marcus Berghahn. “I began to get the impression that the indictment was being used to squeeze her,” says Hurley, saying that these attempts continued even after Thompson’s sentencing (see September 22, 2006), with offers to seek a reduced sentence if Thompson produced evidence that Doyle or others in his administration had broken the law. Hurley, who has been a criminal defense attorney for over 30 years, says: “It was the only time in my career that, after the person was sentenced, the prosecutor has called to renew the discussion. I’ve never had that happen before.” Reporter Bill Lueders writes, “These offers, though not necessarily indicative of improper conduct, suggest that Biskupic and his staff prosecuted Thompson as part of a larger agenda, with potential political overtones.” Biskupic has denied any political motivations behind the prosecution (see April 14, 2007) and refuses to discuss any plea offers with Lueders. Former Dane County assistant district attorney John Burr, a past president of the Association of State Prosecutors, says of Biskupic’s plea offers: “You can’t tell me it was not politically motivated. The powers that be over there thought they were going to go all the way to the governor.” Biskupic’s office, says Burr, prosecuted Thompson to get to Doyle and others. And, “[w]hen they didn’t find anything, they were stuck with it. It blew up in their faces.” Republican gubernatorial candidate Mark Green (R-WI) used the Thompson prosecution as the centerpiece of his campaign against Doyle in the 2006 elections, accusing Doyle of running a corrupt administration. Doyle defeated Green in the election. Many have speculated that the case can be tied to the 2006 US Attorney purge (see March 10, 2006, December 7, 2006, and December 20, 2006), with Biskupic pursuing the Thompson case to curry favor with the Bush administration and keep himself from being fired. Biskupic was considered for firing in 2005 (see March 2, 2005), but was later removed from the list of those being considered for firing. Biskupic insisted throughout the prosecution that the case was entirely about Thompson, and not about Doyle or other elected officials, but in his closing arguments, he cited Doyle, Marotta, and others as “players” in the affair, saying: “She’s the link. She’s the one who made this happen. What a terrible coincidence for her that she is in the middle of all this.” One juror later said that “nobody in the jury room had any doubt whatsoever” that Doyle and others were involved, though there is no evidence to support such a conclusion. Former US Attorney Frank Tuerkheimer says there is nothing untoward or unusual about Biskupic trying to “flip” Thompson to get information about higher-ups. “In principle, there is nothing wrong with it,” he says. “There’s no question in my mind that Biskupic was after Thompson to get higher-ups.” The problem was, Tuerkheimer adds, that “Biskupic had a theory of criminality that was ridiculous”—that Thompson was acting at others’ behest. “It just bothers you ‘cause the woman got screwed.” Tuerkheimer notes that Biskupic had Thompson jailed pending her appeal, which was unusual for such a case. She had no criminal history, was not a flight risk, and had a legitimate case for appeal. Most people in her position would have been allowed to stay out of jail pending the appeal. Why did Biskupic insist on having her jailed? Tuerkheimer replies, “It appeared to me that they were trying to pressure her to talk.” [Madison Isthmus, 5/18/2007] Doyle says he is alarmed by the reports that Biskupic and others tried to pressure Thompson into testifying against members of his administration. “The story is pretty alarming, particularly given that she had testified under oath that nobody had ever asked her to do anything inappropriately,” Doyle says. “Even after… testifying under oath they were still trying to get her to give information that just wasn’t true.” Doyle refuses to say directly that the prosecution was politically motivated, but asks rhetorically, “Does anybody really think that Georgia Thompson, if it hadn’t been an election year, that this would have ever happened to her?” Biskupic’s chief assistant Michelle Jacobs denies that the prosecution had any political components to it, saying: “We would never, and have never, encouraged a defendant to lie to us. To suggest that it is somehow untoward or unusual to approach a post-trial defendant, even a defendant who has testified, about cooperating with us, it’s just not unusual.” [Associated Press, 5/18/2007]

Entity Tags: James E. (“Jim”) Doyle, Bush administration (43), Bill Lueders, Georgia Lee Thompson, Steven M. Biskupic, Mark Andrew Green, Michelle Jacobs, Marc Marotta, John Burr, Frank Tuerkheimer, Stephen Hurley, Marcus Berghahn

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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