The multi-year cost to Juneau County taxpayers to fire a suspended sheriff's lieutenant who is still on the payroll is now over $100,000.

But the final price tag could be a lot less than that-or much more.

Like much else in the case of embattled sheriff's Lieutenant Jeremy Haske, the facts are hard to pin down.

This much is certain: From Aug. 7, 2008 when Sheriff Brent Oleson suspended him through Jan. 8, 2010 Haske has been paid $112,161 in salary and benefits.

That total from the county's Audit and Accounting Department includes $71,620 in salary and $40,541 in benefits.

But taxpayers could recoup all the money. Juneau County Corporation Counsel David Lasker said last year that the county plans to demand Haske repay all the compensation he has received since his suspension if he is fired for cause. Lasker confirmed last week that the county's position has not changed.

Transcript costs

Haske's pay and benefits are just a portion of the cost to taxpayers of his dispute with the county.

The county has paid For the Record, a court reporting company with an office in Madison, $8,460 for transcripts of the eight days of the grievance hearing for Haske held so far. That total includes a few hundred dollars in mailing costs and attendance fees charged by the company.

"The county pays for the original and one copy," Lasker said. "The statute requires that the matter be transcribed because it can be appealed to the Circuit Court based upon the record we have made here."

Attorney fees

As the county's attorney, Lasker is a full time employee whose work in the Haske matter carries no price tag for taxpayers beyond the salary he would earn anyway.

Juneau County Labor Attorney Mark Hazelbaker is not a county employee. The county pays for his services as needed.

According to data provided by Lasker, Hazelbaker billed Juneau County a total of $13,295 from September 2008 through September 2009 for services to the county related specifically to the Haske matter.

Haske's attempt to keep his job led him to file two civil lawsuits against Oleson in Juneau County Circuit Court in 2009. Both cases are still open, according to court records. While Haske's grievance hearing alone would likely have necessitated hiring a lawyer to represent Oleson, the civil suits upped the stakes.

Not the whole story

Milwaukee Attorney Michele Ford represents Oleson in both court cases and the grievance matter. Ford declined to reveal the hourly rate she charges to defend Oleson or how much she has received so far to defend him.

"Juneau County has paid me nothing to defend in this matter," Ford wrote in an e-mail.

The statement is literally true but not the whole story for taxpayers. Ford's fees are paid by an insurance company-the Wisconsin County Mutual Insurance Corp.

The insurance corporation is a unit of the Wisconsin Counties Association. The corporation is owned by the 53 counties it insures, according to information from the corporation's Web site.

"A legal privilege applies that only the insurer can waive," Ford wrote in explanation for her refusal to reveal her fees to defend Oleson.

$10,000 deductible

Jon Hochkammer is director of insurance operations for the corporation. Hochkammer did not respond to a phone message seeking information about Ford's bills.

The insurance that is paying Ford's bills is part of a package of liability coverage that protects the county from a broad range of claims, Lasker said.

The annual premium for the portion of the county's liability insurance directly related to the Haske matter is $84,108 for 2010-almost exactly what it was in 2009, Lasker said. But the cost cannot be attributed to the Haske matter because the county would pay the premium anyway.

However, the policy has a deductible of $10,000 per occurrence. For purposes of the policy, the Haske matter is a single occurrence even though it has spanned three calendar years. The $10,000 deductible was paid in 2009, and is a cost attributable to the Haske matter.

"We paid a deductible of $10,000," Lasker said. "Since then it's been covered by the insurance."

Haske's salary and benefits, Hazelbaker's fees, the cost of transcripts and the insurance deductible total $143,916.

Settlement overtures

Haske is represented by Shawn Mutter, a former Juneau County assistant district attorney who now operates her own law firm in the Taylor County city of Medford. Mutter declined to say what she charges Haske for his defense.

Haske's legal bills are not the responsibility of taxpayers. But that could change if the two sides agreed to a settlement. The county has settled employee disputes outside of court in the past, including one as recently as last month.

According to Mutter, no settlement talks are in the works in the Haske matter. But the history of the case suggests the question of a settlement is not idle speculation.

Haske declined a settlement offer from the county in 2008. The terms of the offer were not made public.

Furthermore, Mutter said she twice made settlement overtures in 2009.

"We have offered to engage in settlement discussions but Attorney Ford has refused to respond," Mutter said in an e-mail. "So the only option we have is to continue to defend against the formal complaint allegations, which are all untrue."

Disputed claims

Ford disputed Mutter's claims.

"Attorney Mutter has never contacted me directly to discuss settlement or otherwise," Ford said in an e-mail. "An offer was made to Haske to resign to salvage his reputation. Attorney Mutter declined. She has not contacted me since regarding settlement or any other matter."

But Mutter said Ford is incorrect. Mutter said she discussed a settlement with Ford and Hazelbaker in a telephone conference Jan. 28, 2009.

"We discussed settlement at that time and she refused to accept our offer," Mutter said. "In fact she wouldn't even discuss it."

Mutter said she discussed a settlement again on July 27, 2009 with Hazelbaker, who did not represent Oleson then and does not represent him now. She said Hazelbaker said he would discuss the offer with Ford.

"Neither he nor Attorney Ford ever responded to my offer in any manner," Mutter said.

Ford did not respond to a request for comment on the specifics of Mutter's claims.

Whatever fees the lawyers charge, they are likely to generate more of them in 2010. Mutter has made no secret that, if he's fired, Haske plans to appeal the case to the Circuit Court.

The grievance hearing for Haske is scheduled for a fourth and, presumably, final round Jan. 28 and 29.

 

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