Judge dismisses parts of trustee’s lawsuit

Ruling in ‘conspiracy’ case states that two village officials complied with open-records law but 40 emails remain at issue
By 
BILL SCHANEN IV
Ozaukee Press Staff

An Ozaukee County circuit judge last week threw out parts of a lawsuit filed by Grafton Village Trustee Susan Meinecke against two village officials over records she contends will reveal a conspiracy targeting her 2018 re-election bid.

Noting that Village Administrator Jesse Thyes and Fire Chief William Rice turned over hundreds of records in response to Meinecke’s requests, Judge Sandy Williams ruled during an Oct. 18 hearing that several of the documents they did not release were properly withheld under exceptions to the state’s open-records law.

Williams granted a motion for summary judgment filed by Thyes and Rice, effectively dismissing the parts of Meinecke’s lawsuit that pertained to those records.

“I think the respondents (Thyes and Rice) have engaged in an incredibly good-faith effort in complying with the open records law,” Williams said, adding that she was “quite frankly a little disappointed” in the arguments made by Meinecke’s lawyers.

Still at issue are 40 emails that Meinecke requested and Thyes withheld on the grounds they contain information protected by attorney-client privilege.

Meinecke’s lawyer, James Karnes, requested that Williams conduct an in-camera, or confidential, review of the emails so she can decide if they were properly withheld.

“The content of the records withheld under attorney-client are not known,” Karnes said, adding that the attorney-client privilege exception is “very narrow” and in some cases such records can and should  be released in redacted form. 

“I think Mrs. Meinecke is entitled to an in-camera review.”

Williams gave the village two choices — redact the emails and release them to Meinecke or produce them for an in-camera review. The village is scheduled to inform the judge of its decision during an Oct. 29 conference call.

“It could very well be that all of these emails are (protected by) attorney-client privilege, but there could be parts that aren’t,” Williams said. 

Among the emails that Williams ruled were properly withheld were a to-do list Thyes created for himself and personal emails between Rice and his wife that have “no nexus to government business,” the judge said.

Other records were properly withheld because they dealt with protected personnel matters, she said. 

Filed on Feb. 19, Meinecke’s lawsuit seeks a writ of mandamus — a court order — compelling Thyes and Rice to release emails they have refused to provide to Meinecke.

Although no trustees are named as respondents, Meinecke argues in the lawsuit that at least some members of the Village Board were part of a conspiracy aimed at torpedoing her 2018 re-election bid. 

“Meinecke believes that public records exist that will prove that members of the Village Board, Thyes and Rice improperly conspired against her election campaign and made false statements about her,” according to the civil complaint filed by Meinecke.

Meinecke’s claims are rooted in a controversy that began shortly after Trustee David Liss was married on Dec. 31, 2017. Liss and his wife are members of the fire department and had their wedding photos taken outside the  fire station standing in a ladder truck. 

According to the lawsuit, Meinecke met with Thyes on Jan. 26, 2018, to discuss the resignation of an employee and mentioned that a resident had asked her whether the village’s insurance policy provided liability coverage when firefighters used department equipment for personal photographs.

A month later, village policy was changed to prohibit the use of fire department equipment as props for personal photos.

According to the lawsuit, Thyes changed the policy but Meinecke was blamed for it, and as a result she has been portrayed as being unsupportive of firefighters.

Referring to unnamed trustees, as well as Thyes and Rice, the complaint states, “Those same individuals have a history of falsely claiming that Meinecke is generally not supportive of village fire personnel, claims that Meinecke has repeatedly and vehemently denied.”

Thyes and Rice have denied the allegations.

Shortly after the policy was changed, trustees Lisa Uribe Harbeck and Dave Antoine expressed opposition to the change at a Village Board meeting. The Finance Committee changed the policy in March to again allow firefighters to use department equipment in photos.

The controversy became fodder for Meinecke’s critics leading up to the April 2018 election.

Meinecke, who was re-elected, is also suing for punitive damages and legal fees.

Feedback:

Click Here to Send a Letter to the Editor

Ozaukee Press

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.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494
 

CONNECT


User login