43 Milwaukee Co. District Attorney employees signed recall petitions

MILWAUKEE (AP) -- A conservative research group says several dozen employees in Democratic Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm's office signed recall petitions for Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

But Chisholm's top aide says none of the prosecutors who are overseeing a long-running investigation of Walker's current and former aides were among those who signed the recall petitions.

Media Trackers identified 43 people in Chisholm's office who signed the petitions. It says one was a deputy district attorney and 19 were assistant district attorneys. The list also includes secretaries and other clerical staff. "We released (the report) in the interest of providing transparency and accountability. When (the district attorney's office) appears to have a culture of engaging in the political process in a somewhat partisan manner, that's always of interest," Media Trackers spokesman Brian Sikma said.

Sikma said one of those who signed the recall petition is Janet Oelstrom, who is a secretary for the district attorney's Public Integrity Unit. That office is handles most high-profile investigations into public corruption, including the much-publicized John Doe investigation that has led to several former Walker county staffers being charged. "When you have a person tasked with enforcing the law as a public official, yet participating in a partisan process, that might raise concern for some folks. In the future, we'll continue to do these types of reports on the DA's office in particular because we find they're the ones charged with public integrity and holding politicians accountable," Sikma said.

Chisholm said there is not much he can do if his employees signed a recall petition. He said choosing to sign is their legal right. Chisholm said the Voting Rights Act and local Wisconsin law stops him from discouraging most of his employees from signing recall petitions, telling FOX6 News "I have to follow the law."

Chisholm said only the lawyers within his Public Integrity Unit have an ethical obligation not to sign the petition - one that's enforced by the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Their staffers, including Oelstrom, have "no ethical obligation," according to Chisholm.

Chisholm said the only advice he can legally give his staffers on signing political petitions is to "follow their conscience."

The investigation has led to charges against five people who worked for or were associated with Walker's county executive office before he became governor.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.