Fraught guardianship case costs county $241,592

Total includes $234,742 settlement agreed to after failed appeal in case that dealt with elderly woman
By 
DAN BENSON
Ozaukee Press staff

A guardianship case that Ozaukee County lost, appealed, lost again and finally settled has cost the county $241,592, according to budget figures recently submitted to county supervisors.

That includes a $234,742 settlement the county reached in June with two law firms who represented the other two parties involved in the case.

Most of the funds were paid out of the Human Services Department budget, county Administrator Jason Dzwinel said, with about $6,850 paid by the Corporation Counsel’s office to other attorneys to review documents.

According to an Appeals Court ruling last fall, an elderly woman in the early stages of dementia had assigned power of attorney to her son after taking it away from her daughter, with whom court filings say the son had been at odds. 

The county argued the woman was not competent to make that decision, had possibly been coerced by her son to do so and sought to appoint a new guardian.

Ozaukee County Circuit Court Judge Joseph Voiland ruled against the county, saying it failed to make its case that the woman was incompetent.

The county also argued the attorney fees approved by Voiland were excessive and that a lower hourly rate should have been applied.

But Voiland ruled that according to state law, the county is responsible for any attorney fees if guardianship is not established. If private attorneys are used, the fees should be the rate “customarily charged in the locality,” he ruled.

County supervisors last year authorized County Corporation Counsel Rhonda Gordon to appeal the case, which the county also lost. 

This spring, Gordon filed motions over the mounting attorney fees and sought to have the case transferred to another judge.

With the prospect of even more fees accumulating, the county agreed to the settlement, which would “release the county from all future claims” in the case and put an end to the appeals.

“The board was not happy being forced to pay these claims but the system created by the Legislature leaves counties vulnerable to liability,” Dzwinel said.

Dzwinel said the county considers the matter resolved and no more funds will be set aside for that specific case.

“Should anything else arise we would assign it to the Corporation Counsel,” he said.

County officials said they plan to push for changes in state law that might have prevented paying the higher fees.

In a separate matter, the 2020 budget for the Ozaukee County Clerk of Court’s looks to jump almost $200,000 due to increases in mandated court costs, primarily due to increases in fees paid to court-appointed attorneys and psychiatric fees for criminal and mental commitment cases.

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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