County denies clerk of courts’ legal fee claim

After long closed session, board decides not to reimburse Mueller for lawyers she hired during probe prompted by judge
By 
BILL SCHANEN IV
Ozaukee Press staff

The Ozaukee County Board on Wednesday denied a claim filed by Clerk of Courts Mary Lou Mueller seeking reimbursement for $33,224 she paid lawyers to represent her during an administrative investigation of the courts system last year prompted by Circuit Judge Joseph Voiland.

All but one supervisor voted to reject Mueller’s claim after meeting in closed session to confer with Corporation Counsel Rhonda Gorden for more than 90 minutes. Supr. Gus “Sandy” Wirth abstained.

Mueller said after the vote that she has not decided whether to pursue reimbursement for her legal fees in circuit court, but added in a statement, “It may be an appropriate time to leave these concerns in the past.”  

The board typically denies claims, but it hesitated when it first considered Mueller’s request for reimbursement last month, with some supervisors expressing support for the veteran of the Clerk of Courts Office who was elected to lead the department in 2011 and also serves as the county register in probate.

The board referred the claim to the Public Safety Committee, which after meeting in closed session on Dec. 18 recommended the board deny the claim.

At that meeting, Voiland, whose request to address the committee was denied, presented a written statement opposing Mueller’s request for reimbursement and a copy of a letter from his attorney to Mueller threatening to sue her for a comment she made about the court investigation.

The committee did not consider Voiland’s statement, but it, along with the letter to Mueller, was included in materials given to the County Board prior to Wednesday’s meeting. 

In the Nov. 30 letter from Voiland’s lawyer Brent Nistler of Wauwatosa to Mueller, Nistler accused Mueller of making false and misleading statements. He identified a statement Mueller made during an interview with Ozaukee Press when, in explaining why she hired lawyers to represent her during an administrative investigation of the court system earlier this year, she said, “These were very serious allegations for Judge Voiland to make with no foundation whatsoever. I felt I needed representation.”

Mueller said she was referring to allegations of criminal misconduct Voiland made against her and two other court officials during a 16-month criminal probe of the court system that began in May 2016.

That investigation ended without conclusions or recommendations, but the administrative probe that followed found “no basis to believe that anyone” was guilty of misconduct in public office or any other crime.

In November, Voiland sued Chief Judge of Wisconsin’s Third Judicial District Jennifer Dorow over the administrative investigation she ordered. 

Although much of the discussion about Mueller’s claim has occurred during closed sessions, it appears that the issue hinged in part on whether the county provided legal counsel for its employees during the administrative investigation. 

Gorden has said that Samuel Hill, the Milwaukee lawyer hired by the county’s insurance company during the administrative investigation, was available to advise employees.

“We made sure that employees in the Clerk of Courts Office knew that they could meet with Sam Hill,” Gorden said during an interview last month. “The county did provide representation for its employees.”

Mueller, however, said that because the allegations against her were serious, she needed her own lawyers.

“Yes, Sam Hill was hired to represent the county, but he wasn’t hired to represent me,” she said last month.

Ozaukee Press reporter Dan Benson contributed to this story.

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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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