By Alison Dirr
A deputy city attorney in Milwaukee City Attorney Tearman Spencer‘s office has continued appearing in court on behalf of his private law firm even as he was under scrutiny over allegations that he was performing private work on city time, Milwaukee’s inspector general said Monday.
Inspector General Ronda Kohlheim told a Common Council committee that Deputy City Attorney Odalo Ohiku had appeared in court in private cases in July, August, September and, most recently, in juvenile court on Nov. 7.
She was before the Judiciary and Legislation Committee to discuss her report in which she recommended the Milwaukee County district attorney bring criminal charges against Spencer and Ohiku after she concluded Ohiku was allowed to do work for his law firm while on the city clock.
“To my knowledge, they are still reviewing it, I’ll say that,” she told the Journal Sentinel after the meeting. “Whether there will be criminal charges I don’t know.”
Kohlheim said that she planned to file an addendum to the report if she determined that Ohiku had not taken the appropriate time off to appear in court on the new dates and would provide that information to the District Attorney’s Office as well.
Reached by phone Monday afternoon, Ohiku’s attorney Nate Cade took issue with the way that Kohlheim in the report calculated the amount of time Ohiku spent in court, saying a hearing did not necessarily take a full working day.
Kohlheim determined that Ohiku spent an estimated 88 hours working for clients of his personal law firm while on the city clock, bilking the city out of $5,766.
Kohlheim had also recommended the Common Council remove the pair from office and said she would be referring them to the state’s Office of Lawyer Regulation, which investigates and prosecutes violations of lawyer ethics rules.
On Monday, the committee also began considering changes at the city in response to her recommendations, with members raising the potential that it would need to hire an outside law firm instead of having those changes reviewed by Spencer’s office.
Kohlheim on Monday said the report’s publication before Spencer’s seat is up for election in April is “in no way a political conspiracy to undermine the upcoming 2024 general election.”
The report had not been released earlier at the request of the District Attorney’s Office, she said.
Spencer has not said whether he is running for re-election. Democratic state Rep. Evan Goyke announced late last year that he would run for the seat.
The spring election is April 2, with any primaries scheduled for Feb. 20.
Committee members also moved toward making some of the changes that Kohlheim recommended in the report — though they raised concerns about the City Attorney’s Office’s ability to provide legal counsel on those changes.
Common Council President José G. Pérez said this was a time for the council to consider getting legal advice outside the City Attorney’s Office.
“Who do we go to? The city attorney that is in the report?” he said.
Published with permission from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.