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Judge drops alderwoman's lawsuit against city

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The welcome sign for Wausau, Wisconsin, USA along Wisconsin Highway 52.
The welcome sign for Wausau, Wisconsin, USA along Wisconsin Highway 52.

MADISON, Wis. (WSAU) – A federal judge has dismissed a former Wausau alderwoman’s lawsuit against the city.

Christine Van de Yacht sued four current and former city officials on grounds that they orchestrated a deceitful plot to silence her in retaliation for her outspoken criticism of the city’s development department.

Judge Barbara Crabb’s decision dismisses the case against Mayor Jim Tipple, community development director Ann Werth, former city attorney Bill Nagle and former community development director Mike Morrissey.

Crabb based her decision on the legal theory of qualified immunity, which shields public officials from liability when they act in a manner that they believed was lawful.

Crabb said the theory applies in this case because “the right of elected officials to be free from retaliation for political speech was not clearly established at the time of the alleged misconduct.”

Van de Yacht’s attorney, Madison-based Jeff Scott Olson, said they are considering appealing the decision to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.

“Christine had a more childlike faith in our justice system than I do and she was quite disappointed,” Olson said.

Olson also said his client feels vindicated based on the judge’s finding that “the plaintiff’s allegations that the individual defendants retaliated against her on her protected speech by ‘ginning up’ ethics charges stands unopposed.”

An attorney representing the city said the decision is a win.

“We’re extremely satisfied with the decision mostly in that it saves the city the cost associated with trying the case, which we were prepared to do next month,” said Sam Hall of the Brookfield-based Law Offices of Thomas T. Stilp.

Hall said it’s unfair to say city officials actually retaliated against Van de Yacht. He said the city would have been prepared to defend the allegations at trial but had to assume the allegations as true for purposes of the motion.

The lawsuit stems from allegations that Van de Yacht bought part of the Golden Gournsey building knowing it had been cleaned up with a federal blight loan.

The city’s Ethics Board recommended in April 2006 that Van de Yacht be censured for her apparent conflict of interest. The City Council has never acted on the recommendation.

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