Milwaukee County could pay $95,000 to cover Sheriff David Clarke Jr.’s legal fees in exchange for his promise to drop five appeals.
Clarke owes $149,225 in legal fees to Milwaukee attorney Michael Whitcomb for representation in three lawsuits, according to a memo sent to supervisors. Those lawsuits include one filed against the county to determine whether the County Board could transfer control of the House of Correction from the sheriff to a superintendent.
Mark Grady, interim corporation counsel for the county, said Whitcomb proposed the settlement and agreed to negotiate his outstanding fees down to $95,000. In exchange, Clarke will drop five appeals. Those appeals are of the decisions in the three lawsuits with outstanding fees and two others corporation counsel decided did not quality for reimbursement, according to the memo.
Despite supervisors labeling the proposed settlement “an act of extortion” and “a strong-armed way” to resolve the issue, the County Board’s Judiciary, Safety and General Services Committee voted 5-1 to approve it.
Supervisor John Weishan Jr. cast the sole vote against the proposal.
“I am definitely not going to sit here and have him say, you know, ‘Give me money or I’m going to run up the tab even more and lose,” Weishan said during the meeting. “That is extortion.”
The full board will vote at its July 25 meeting.
A written statement attributed to Clarke alleges Kimberly Walker, formerly the county’s top in-house attorney, “irreparably destroyed the attorney client relationship” between Clarke and the Office of Corporation Counsel and forced him to retain Whitcomb.
Grady told the committee the county’s in-house attorneys would have faced a conflict of interest in the three lawsuits with the outstanding fees. Clarke needed an outside attorney in those cases, Grady said, and the money to pay Whitcomb will come from the Office of the Sheriff’s department budget.
If Clarke does not drop the appeals, Grady said, the county could be forced to pay more in legal fees.