- Views & Opinions
Milwaukee County has paid hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past several years to cover the legal costs of lawsuits brought by the notorious county sheriff.
A federal judge this week tossed out Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke’s lawsuit against County Executive Chris Abele. Clarke alleged that Abele violated his right to free speech by using the budget process to punish Clarke and others who say things Abele disagrees with.
County taxpayers will now have to pick up the $50,000 tab for Clarke’s private attorney, Michael A.I. Whitcomb, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
The county has already paid Whitcomb more than $260,000 to represent the sheriff in litigation against the county since 2012. The county itself has paid $83,000 defending itself in these lawsuits.
Altogether, the county has spent over $346,000 for the sheriff to sue the county. With the latest lawsuit, that figure will top $400,000.
“Public safety is too important to Milwaukee families for us to continually waste time and money on lawsuits like this,” said Melissa Baldauff, a spokeswoman for Abele.
Clarke said he has not read the decision in the latest lawsuit, but he had sharp words for Abele. The sheriff did not say if he plans to appeal the decision.
“Abele is the guy who spent $263,000 of his personal wealth trying to defeat me in my last election and he lost,” Clarke said in a statement. “He continues his vendetta by trying to silence me. That little man will stop at nothing.”
Clarke is a darling of right-wing talk radio in Milwaukee and the surrounding deep-red suburbs. He frequently makes national headlines for his over-the-top antics, such as his saying that blacks sell drugs because they’re “lazy” and “morally bankrupt.” He also asked Milwaukee County residents to arm themselves to help his deputies.
Clarke, who often wears a cowboy hat and boots, is African American.
In the run-up to Wisconsin’s presidential primaries, social justice groups Voces de la Frontera and the Coalition for Justice circulated a petition calling for a law enforcement official other than Clarke to oversee public safety at Trump events in the Milwaukee area. In early March, Clarke told a Fox News host that demonstrators with immigrant rights and Black Lives Matter movements deserve to be “hit first and hit hard.”
Last June, Judge David Borowski ordered Clarke to provide un-redacted information about people his department turned over to federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement for deportation. The order was made in an open records lawsuit filed by Voces de la Frontera.