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Finance committee, Kaul to discuss 3 possible settlements

By TODD RICHMOND
Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republican lawmakers and Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul are scheduled to meet Wednesday to discuss settling three lawsuits after the defendants in those cases agreed to make the terms of the deals public.

The settlements, if approved, would be the first under a lame-duck law Republicans passed in December 2018. The statutes stripped the attorney general’s office of its ability to settle cases independently, requiring the office to seek permission from the GOP-controlled Joint Finance Committee before agreeing to any deals. The law underscores the chasm of distrust between Republicans and Kaul.

Kaul has refused to work with the committee on any settlements, citing litigants confidentiality. He wants committee members to sign nondisclosure agreements before he’ll even discuss cases with them. Republicans have refused, offering instead to meet in closed session. Kaul has warned the stalemate could cost the state millions of dollars in revenue.

The finance committee on Monday released an agenda for a meeting on Wednesday calling for discussions with Kaul on three possible settlements.

One involves Dave’s Sewer Service in Waupaca, which has been accused of improperly dumping sewage on hay crops.

Another is a federal lawsuit in which the state and federal governments are seeking to force Superior Refining Company LLC to mitigate harm from emissions that resulted from an  explosion on April 2018 at the company’s Superior refinery.

The third involves the University of Wisconsin System regents’ lawsuit against the former UW-Oshkosh officials Richard Wells and Tom Sonnleitner. They were accused of illegally funneling $11 million to the UW-Oshkosh Foundation to help it execute building projects and illegally promising to back the foundation’s loans. The foundation ultimately defaulted on the loans and filed for bankruptcy. Wells and Sonnleitner each pleaded guilty last month to misconduct in office.

The Legislative Fiscal Bureau on Wednesday released a memo, dated Jan. 31 and written by state Department of Justice Legal Services Administrator Charlotte Gibson wrote to the committee. Gibson said the defendants in each case have agreed to make settlement terms public.

She said the parties in the sewage case have agreed to settle for $39,000 and plant pine seedlings to absorb contamination in the soil; Superior Refining Company has agreed to carryout projects to offset excess emissions from the explosion and adopt safety plans; and UW has agreed to dismiss its case against Wells and Sonnleitner in exchange for their guilty pleas but still needs the finance committee’s approval.

State Department of Justice spokeswoman Gillian Drummond didn’t immediately return a message, neither did aides to finance committee chairs Rep. John Nygren and Sen. Alberta Darling.

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