RACINE — Mayor John Dickert has asked for the city to assume the cost of any damages that may be awarded in a slander lawsuit against him.
His attorney, Michael Cohen, said Thursday that Dickert still believes there are no grounds for the suit filed by former city employee William Bielefeldt. Dickert filed a third-party complaint May 31 against the City of Racine because a judge indicated the lawsuit made no mention of Dickert in his role as mayor, Cohen said. Bielefeldt brought the suit against Dickert in his personal capacity.
Dickert’s complaint asks the court to invoke a state law on "indemnification" that requires a municipality to cover legal costs incurred by a public employee acting in an official capacity.
Bielefeldt sued Dickert in February for an unspecified dollar amount. He claims Dickert defamed him in comments he made while discussing the city’s Neighborhood Stabilization Program as a guest on WRJN Feb. 12.
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"We found somebody embezzling in the City of Racine and I fired him," the suit quotes Dickert as saying.
Dickert clearly was speaking as Racine’s leader on the radio show, Cohen said. He believes the city has the same view and will agree to take on any financial responsibility.
"He was talking about city business, and he was doing so as mayor," Cohen said.
City officials said in November that Bielefeldt had been fired from his job as a housing technician for "gross negligence." Bielefeldt stated in the suit he was the only employee from the program who was fired, and he disputes the allegation Dickert reportedly made on the radio show.
Besides any damages if he loses the suit, Dickert’s complaint asks the city to cover "the full cost of his defense." So far the bills have been submitted to the city, although Deputy City Attorney Scott Letteney said he was unsure if any had yet been paid. He said it was surprising there was any debate whether Dickert was acting as mayor, but he plans to wait for direction from the City Council before responding in court.
Bielefeldt didn’t name the city as a defendant in his suit. His attorney, Thomas Santarelli, wrote in an email Thursday that Dickert was campaigning for re-election at the time of the broadcast and thus not representing the city.
Kenosha County Circuit Court Judge Bruce Schroeder is presiding over the case. Earlier this month the city asked for the case to be assigned to a different judge, but Letteney said that request has since been withdrawn.
Dickert declined to comment on developments in the lawsuit.