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Aldermen suing city for attorney's fees

Lawsuit stems from 2009 suspensions

October 20, 2010 | 08:56 AM
Four aldermen — two former, two current — have filed a lawsuit in Walworth County Circuit Court against the city of Lake Geneva.

Alderwomen Mary Jo Fesenmaier and Arleen Krohn and former aldermen Tom Spellman and Penny Roehrer want the city to pay for more than $90,000 in legal fees incurred during their 2009 suspensions from the council, imposed by former mayor Bill Chesen.

The lawsuit was filed on Oct. 11 and the city now has 20 days to respond.

On Sept. 9, 2009, Chesen filed charges against them. They were suspended for alleged "neglect of duties, inefficiency, misconduct and violations of open meeting laws." At that time, Chesen said the charges stemmed from the Aug. 24 council meeting in which Spyro "Speedo" Condos was appointed to fill a vacant aldermanic seat.

Prior to their suspensions, these aldermen voted in favor of the appointment of Condos. At the time Chesen said they "committed open meetings law violations and had backdoor dealings." Chesen claimed the aldermen "conspired" to appoint "their friend" Condos to the council and ignored state statute that calls for an election for the position.

When the suspensions were made, a hearing also was set for the charges filed by Chesen. That's when the four obtained counsel from attorneys Godfrey and Kahn and David C. Williams to defend them in civil proceedings and to defend their aldermanic positions.

Later, Fesenmaier and Spellman hired attorney David A. Rasmussen to defend their aldermanic positions. The attorneys filed action to have them reseated.

Just weeks later, the suspensions of Roehrer and Krohn were lifted and they returned to their seats on the council.

In a "mediation session" with former Walworth County Circuit Court Judge Michael Gibbs just before Thanksgiving, Condos agreed to give up his council seat if Chesen would rescind his suspensions and return the aldermen to their seats. Two weeks later, Fesenmaier, Krohn and Spellman voted to temporarily appoint Condos to the seat again, but the effort failed when Chesen broke the tie.

In all, Godfrey and Kahn submitted bills to the aldermen for a total of $62,123, while Williams submitted bills totaling $27,469 and Rasmussen's bill was $2,100.

The lawsuit states Wisconsin statutes, "If the defendant in any action or special proceeding is a public officer or employee and ... is proceeded against as an individual because of acts committed while carrying out duties as an officer ... Regardless of the results of the litigation the government unit, if it does not provide legal counsel to the defendant officer or employee shall pay reasonable attorney fees and costs of defending the action, unless it is found by the court or jury that the defendant officer or employee did not act within the scope of employment."

On Feb. 13, the plaintiffs served a notice of claim on the city of Lake Geneva. On April 26, the City Council voted to disallow the claim.

The issues with the aldermen and former mayor didn't just start on Aug. 24. Prior to the meeting when Condos was first appointed, Chesen said he knew the aldermen were going to appoint Condos, who was Chesen's opponent in a fiery and ugly 2008 mayoral election. The issue about filling the aldermanic seat vacated by Gary Dunham started at the Aug. 10 meeting in which Spellman said Chesen was going to appoint the person of his choice for the spot. Fesenmaier was out of the country at the time of that meeting.

Spellman and Roehrer did not attend the meeting that night or the special one set for Aug. 11. Neither of those meetings occurred because of a lack of quorum.

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