MILWAUKEE — A Milwaukee Alderman’s actions that led to closing a facility meant to house people with mental disabilities could cost the city $1.4 million.
After a near 15-year legal battle, Alderman Bob Bauman was found to be responsible for West Samaria closing down with false and defamatory comments he made while holding his position on the Common Council. Tri-Corp. Housing Inc. which owned West Samaria, defaulted on a $1.6 million WHEDA loan because of Bauman’s comments. Now, Bauman and the City of Milwaukee may be on the hook for paying up.
Milwaukee City Attorney Tearman Spencer announced his displeasure with the city being on the hook.
"I want to be clear," Spencer said. "I'm putting the other council people on notice. If they continue and try to usurp the process, sweep it under the rug, it will be viewed as them being complicit in the same activity."
Spencer also cited issues with Bauman soliciting a $100,000 payment by the Couture Developers to the MKE United property tax relief fund. While he called out several unnamed Common Council Members for unnamed activities, he would not get into specifics about it.
"I am not privy to tell you what information or allegations have been made in an investigation," Spencer said. "Whether I sit up here and tell you who said what, when, is not your concern. After the investigation is concluded, it will be your concern. We won't spread rumors other than the fact, investigations are ongoing."
"The City Attorney no longer represents the City of Milwaukee," Bauman said. "For whatever reason, he's pursuing his own agenda. I don't know what that agenda is but it's a rule of professional conduct that lawyers don't turn on their clients. I am his client."
The case against Bauman started in 2007. He says up until recently, the City Attorney's Office represented him in the matter.
The comments Bauman made were regarding the care of two individuals who died while living at West Samaria in addition to the overall care the facility provides.
A jury found he did make the statements with reckless disregard of their truth or falsity, abused his First Amendment privilege and was not acting with the scope of his employment.
As such, 10 of 12 jurors agreed and believe Tri-Corp, Housing Inc. should be compensated $1.4 million because of defamatory statements made by Bauman.
"I disagreed with the jury's verdict," Bauman said. "My job is to follow up on issues of that type, comment on matters of public concern, advocate on behalf of my constituents, which is exactly what I was doing. [The man who died] was in fact a constituent. As were all the residents of that property. My job was to advocate on their behalf. That's exactly what I did."
"He says he's representing his constituents?" John Machulak, attorney for Tri Corps. Housing Inc. said. "There are 92 constituents in that building and he never stepped foot in that building."
Machulak has been on the case since the beginning for Tri Corps. Housing Inc. He says the 15-year legal battle has video depositions showing Bauman saying he's never been inside the facility. He feels those tapes are a big reason the jury ruled in Tri Corps. Housing Inc.'s favor.
"He doesn't tell the truth," Machulak said. "The jury could see that and the actions around it was manipulating circumstances, doing whatever he could specifically to injure the non-profit. You're not talking about two politicians going at it in a ring. You're talking about a politician being able to go outside the normal process to really harm someone and do it with impunity. To step back and say, we'll I'm constitutionally protected. I can do that. Nobody can do that."
If this decision holds up, Bauman won't be responsible for paying any of the damages to Tri Corps. Housing Inc.
In 2020, the Common Council voted unanimously to back Bauman in the case.
The legislation says, “That the City of Milwaukee shall defend, indemnify and hold harmless the 4th District Alderman, Robert J. Bauman, from and against all losses or damages and, in the event that the jury or court determines him to be within the scope of employment, shall pay any judgment up to the amount permitted under Wis. State. Sec. 893.80(3), that is, up to $50,000, resulting from any and all litigation related to Milwaukee County Circuit Court Case No. 2007CV13965.”
It continues, “The City of Milwaukee shall defend, indemnify and hold harmless the 4th District Alderman, Robert J. Bauman, from and against all losses or damages and, in the event that the jury or court determined him to be outside the scope of employment, shall pay any judgment resulting from any and all litigation related to [the court case].”
"My colleagues were aware of the facts of this case and aware of the job and role of an alderman," Bauman said. "In their mind, there was no question I was acting within the scope of my employment. Is it fair? It is fair, unless people don't want aldermen to advocate for them anymore, and commenting on matters of public concern and not doing the job they've been hired to do."
City Attorney Tearman Spencer announced his frustrations with the city having to foot the bill Monday.
“It comes to a point when repeated behavior shows you the efforts to continuously bully and exert past your authority,” Spencer said during a press conference. “When it costs the city and taxpayers, something must be done about it.”
Spencer, who as City Attorney could represent members of the Common Council, made claims that other Common Council members may be involved in an investigation involving the Wisconsin Attorney General, Wisconsin Ethics Commission and the US Attorney’s Office, though he would not expand on what that investigation would entail.
The Wisconsin Attorney General's Office says they are yet to receive any communication from Spencer or his office. The Wisconsin Ethics Commission and US Attorney's Office would not comment.
Bauman’s attorney tells the I-Team, they plan to follow all the legal rights and obligations they have to challenge this result.