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April 2014

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Judge rules in favor of Pauline Haass Library Board

Village of Sussex — A Waukesha County Circuit Court Judge has determined that the Pauline Haass Library Board has the authority to sue the Town of Lisbon over "control and custody" of about 65 acres of farmland that the late Pauline Haass donated to the town for library purposes.

The decision by Judge James R. Kieffer on Monday means the legal battle between the town and Library Board over the land will continue.

Libary Board Attorney David Hase predicted Kieffer would order the two sides into mediation when he meets with the lawyers again on Jan. 17 to discuss how and when the legal battle will continue.

Town Attorney Katheryn Gutenkunst must file by Jan. 9 a response to the Library Board's request that the judge order the town to turn over the land to the Library Board as well as account for how town officials have used other assets donated by Haass for library purposes.

Gutenkunst said she will have to confer with town officials before a decision is made whether to appeal Kieffer's decision. No one representing town government attended the hearing. The only library official in attendance was Sussex Village Trustee Tim Dietrich who is also a member of the Library Board.

However, town resident Tom Schuldt attended the Monday, Jan. 30 hearing at the Waukesha County Courthouse and Administration Center.

"To spend taxpayers' money on something like this is just plain goofy," Schuldt said.

"It is unfortunate we have to keep spending money on this because the will did not clearly say how she wanted the land used," Schuldt continued.

Town residents are paying for lawyers on both sides. Town tax dollars are used to partly fund the library budget which includes funds for lawyers fees. Town residents are also paying the town's legal fees since the town's insurance carrier will not pay the costs of the lawsuit because the Library Board is not seeking monetary damages against the town, according to town officials.

The library board is anticipating using about $50,000 in 2014 for legal fees. Library Board officials have been discussing the matter, but haven't included a firm number in the budget yet.

However, as Hase later pointed out, the issue was not the clarity of the Haass will but rather the enforceability of state law that said the Library Board must have "control and custody" of any land donated to the town or village to be used for library purposes.

Hase argued that the Library Board had the authority to seek legal action against the town because it was the only way that the board could enforce the state law and require the town to turn the land over to the library.

Gutenkunst rebutted that the Library Board did have the authority to sue or be sued because of a long-standing legal principle that subordinate local government entities created by counties, cities, villages or towns — such as library boards — cannot sue or be sued unless there is specific authorization. The library and its governing body were created by a joint agreement between the town and Village of Sussex.

She argued that if there was going to be a lawsuit filed against the town over the Haass property, the suit must be filed by the Village of Sussex. The village is not a party in the legal dispute.

Using a state Supreme Court decision as a guide, Kieffer ruled that there was an implied authority for the Library Board to seek legal action otherwise the board could not carry out the powers and duties assigned it by state law.

"It is the opinion of this court that there is clear statutory authorization for the library board, in this case, to sue in order to address certain demands it has against the Town of Lisbon pursuant to Mrs. Haass's will," Kieffer said.

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