Judge dismisses lawsuit against Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele

MILWAUKEE — A Milwaukee County judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by the county board chairman against the county executive.

Judge William Sosnay said Monday, February 29th only the county board can sue unless supervisors adopt a resolution directing its chairman to act on their behalf.

Theo Lipscomb, Milwaukee County Board chairman

Chairman Theo Lipscomb filed the lawsuit in October.

He wants legal clarification on whether County Executive Chris Abele has unilateral authority to award pay raises to his political appointees who aren't covered by civil service rules.

Lipscomb also wants a judge to decide whether Abele is obligated to attend county board meetings when requested. Lipscomb says he'll refile the lawsuit.

"This is not a personal dispute between me and the county executive. This is about the powers of the two offices -- the county executive and the powers of the county board," Lipscomb said.

Chris Abele

"Just from a fundamental legal issue, the county board chair doesn't have the ability to come in and dictate what county policy is going to be. That's something that's left for the county board itself," Ron Stadler, county executive's attorney said.

Lipscomb's Office issued the following statement to FOX6 News:

On a technical issue of process, Milwaukee County Circuit Judge William Sosnay (Monday) granted County Executive Chris Abele’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit without prejudice. The motion argued whether the case could be filed by the County Board Chairman or only the County Board of Supervisors.

(Monday)’s decision to dismiss based on a lack of standing was confined to this technicality rather than the merits of the broader case.

Lipscomb said, “County Executive Chris Abele continues to skirt the law, as he did with his absence at last week's public hearing on the Domes and his continued compensation of political appointees at levels that exceed the limitations on pay established by the Board of Supervisors. It is clear from today’s hearing that there still is a legal dispute, that we will ask the courts to settle.”

Specifically, County Executive Chris Abele continues to violate Act 14, the law he lobbied the Wisconsin State Legislature and Governor Scott Walker to adopt, with his continued refusal to show up for work to answer questions in a transparent and public setting. Just last week, the County Executive again failed to show up for the job he was elected to do when he refused to participate in the public hearing on the future of the Mitchell Park Domes in disregard of the hundreds of Milwaukee County residents who attended the meeting held by the Board’s Committee of the Whole.

The Abele v. Lipscomb lawsuit was initiated per File No. 15-622, which was adopted by the Board by a 14-2 veto-proof super-majority vote. With this legislation, the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors authorized: “the initiation of an action to declare the rights and powers of the County Board and the Milwaukee County Executive related to Chapter 59, Chapter 63, Chapter 66 and other sections of the Wisconsin State Statutes, as affected by 2013 Wisconsin Act 14 and 2015 Wisconsin Act 55, at such time as the Chairperson of the County Board deems appropriate, with the advice of counsel.”

“The resolution and authorization was not part of the record reviewed by the Court. It always was my understanding that, as Chairman, I was representing the interests of the Board of Supervisors and the public, not just my own, in bringing this lawsuit based on the adopted resolution.” Lipscomb said.
In line with Judge Sosnay’s ruling, I expect a new case will be filed soon, so the courts have an opportunity to decide these issues on their merits. I remain confident that the courts are the appropriate forum to decide these issues of Executive overreach,” Lipscomb added.