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Judge denies change of venue in Milwaukee City Hall facade suit

A Milwaukee County judge on Thursday denied a change of venue motion to move a construction lawsuit involving Milwaukee City Hall's facade from Milwaukee to Waukesha County. (File photo by Kevin Harnack)

A Milwaukee County judge on Thursday denied a change of venue motion to move a construction lawsuit involving Milwaukee City Hall’s facade from Milwaukee to Waukesha County. (File photo by Kevin Harnack)

A judge Thursday rejected a change of venue motion in a lawsuit between Milwaukee and the designers of the facade on City Hall.

Milwaukee County Circuit Judge David Hansher called the request a “Hail Mary” before ruling the case would not shift to Waukesha County. Massachusetts-based Simpson Gumpertz & Heger Inc., one of three designers for the facade, filed the motion, claiming media coverage of the lawsuit would make it difficult to assemble an impartial jury.

According to the motion, the only assumption a potential juror could make from the media coverage is that the designers were at fault when portions of the facade began to crack and fall in 2011 after a City Hall restoration project that was completed in 2008.

“What are we doing here?” said Doug Palandech, an attorney with Illinois-based Foran Glennon Palandech Ponzi & Rudloff PC who is representing Simpson Gumpertz & Heger. “Why have a trial?”

Hansher, in rejecting the motion, ruled there was an insufficient basis in fact or law to move the case. He also cited the precedent such a move would set and referred to the trial of Jeffrey Dahmer and other high-profile cases in Milwaukee County that were not moved. The trial is scheduled to continue in November.

The city in 2012 filed the lawsuit against project designers Simpson Gumpertz & Heger; Bloom Cos. LLC, Milwaukee; and Engberg Anderson Inc., Milwaukee. The lawsuit also named the project’s general contractor, Janesville-based J.P. Cullen & Sons Inc., as well as project suppliers and the insurers for the companies.

The city in June offered settlements to the three design companies, but all three rejected the offers. According to the offers, Simpson Gumpertz & Heger would have paid $9 million, Engberg Anderson $1.85 million and Bloom Cos. $1.5 million.

The city has agreed to a separate settlement deal with Cullen to fix the facade for a discounted rate. That settlement is pending approval from the court in November.

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