$76,669.01 and counting.
That’s the amount a Milwaukee law firm thus far has billed the City of Racine for outside attorney fees in City Attorney Scott Letteney’s ham-handed attempt to stifle Alderman Sandy Weidner by seeking an Ethics Board sanction for releasing some emails from his office to her constituents back in 2017.
$76,669.01 would fill more than a few potholes. Perhaps even turn on a few of the city streetlights that went dark in a cost-cutting effort a few years back. Even enough to pay a chunk of the $100,000 plus salary of a good city attorney who doesn’t waste time looking for ways to do a public beat-down on an elected city alderman.
This whole episode is a disgrace to the City of Racine, an insult to taxpayers and a waste of money. It calls into question the judgment of the city attorney and his reasoning for pursuing such a misguided venture when he went before a closed session meeting of city aldermen in the fall of 2017 with a Powerpoint presentation of a collection of emails from Weidner that he alleged violated attorney-client privilege. He wanted the city Ethics Board to review it for possible sanctioning.
When Weidner asked Letteney for a copy of the emails in his presentation, the city attorney denied it and Weidner then filed a lawsuit seeking the records.
That’s when the legal bills started rolling in.
The secrecy was compounded when Racine County Circuit Court Judge Eugene Gasiorkiewicz, inexplicably — at the behest of Letteney — put the entire case under seal when he made a ruling. It marked the first time in our memory that a judge had hidden from the public a decision involving open records and the public’s right to know.
But that was just the start of this bizarre and now long-running case. Weidner appealed the decision to Court of Appeals and last fall was hauled back before Judge Gasiorkiewicz and found in contempt for violating his secrecy order for talking to reporters about the case.
The Court of Appeals, which still has the case, directed Gasiorkiewicz to review his decision and release some of the documents in the case. That partial release — thus far — has revealed mundane and inconsequential emails and Weidner’s defense on why they were, in some cases, open documents that were readily available and even posted on city websites.
It also opened the doors to reveal the billing costs for the Milwaukee law firm, which Letteney had previously declined to release saying it was under seal by the court.
That’s where the $76,669.01 figure came from — it was released after an open records request was filed by The Journal Times. And the legal meter is still running.
We can only hope the Court of Appeals puts an end to this wasteful madness that never should have happened in the first place and the City Council and Mayor Cory Mason, who has been noticeably silent as this farce has played out, take a hand in reining in actions by the city attorney that run up needless legal bills when the city has more consequential places to put those dollars.
This whole episode is a disgrace to the City of Racine, an insult to taxpayers and a waste of money. It calls into question the judgment of the city attorney and his reasoning for pursuing such a misguided venture when he went before a closed session meeting of city aldermen in the fall of 2017.