Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

Attorney Didn’t Want Inspector General Report Made Public

Publication threatens the city's defense in Morales case argues Spencer.

By - Feb 12th, 2021 09:10 am
City Attorney Tearman Spencer speaks at a press conference on June 12th. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

City Attorney Tearman Spencer speaks at a press conference on June 12th. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

A new report from the city’s Inspector General should not have been made public until legal issues regarding the demotion of former police chief Alfonso Morales were resolved.

That’s according to City Attorney Tearman Spencer.

“The release of such a report and appended documents, in any pending matter, thwarts the City Attorney’s Office’s ability to effectively protect the City of Milwaukee’s interests in legal matters,” wrote Spencer in a letter to the Common Council on Thursday. “In fact, in this very communication, I have to refrain from offering any analysis relating to the Morales matter for fear that this letter will be released as well.”

It’s the latest twist in the controversial August demotion of Alfonso Morales. And an unusual one for two reasons.

The report makes Spencer’s office look like it did the right thing. Inspector General Ronda Kohlheim, who reports to the council via the City Clerk, found that members of the Fire & Police Commission ignored written advice from the City Attorney’s Office on the proper procedure to remove the chief.

Second, Spencer, in a legal filing, already admitted that Morales was denied his due process rights. Morales filed a successful lawsuit against the city alleging as much and the City Attorney admitted the commissioners did not follow the proper procedure in a response to the case.

A judge reinstated Morales and said the commission was at fault for the current situation where there are now two chiefs. Morales, who retired after being demoted, is reportedly working on a settlement with the city. The City Attorney’s Office is retaining Cade Law Group as outside counsel to support its efforts.

The report was commissioned by Common Council President Cavalier Johnson to attempt to answer the question of who was telling the truth regarding the existence of a legal opinion before the commission acted in August and whether the City Attorney explicitly endorsed the commission’s actions.

What is so damaging about this report? “We are not saying this specific one, but this is not the first time this has occurred,” said Spencer in an interview. “You don’t want leaks to the point where they impact the integrity of the case.” He said publishing the information could change the nature of the city’s defense.

Spencer said he received an email from Kailyn Kenney, Johnson’s chief of staff, on February 9th asking for an opinion on the council discussing the matter in public session at a future meeting. “As I was preparing a response to this inquiry, I was dismayed to learn that, despite the assurances that the draft IG report would be kept strictly confidential, the IG Report has been made publicly available,” wrote Spencer in his letter.

Urban Milwaukee was able to obtain it in the city’s online records system, Legistar. The file it is attached to was created on February 9th.

The City Attorney says record related to ongoing legal issues need to be kept private.

The published report does redact the names of the two people that Kohlheim interviewed, and those that didn’t respond to her inquiries. Kohlheim also cites over 40 documents, and only one is included, a publicly-available list of rules and regulations for DeKalb, Illinois’ fire and police commission.

The report also includes what could be interpreted as a contradictory comment about the attorney’s office’s written opinion. “Testimonial evidence suggests that on at least two occasions the Board’s decision to demote the chief was exclusively based on an apparent assertion by the City Attorney ‘to do what needs to be done’ with assurance that the Board’s decision would be supported and defended by the City Attorney’s Office,” wrote Kohlheim.

Spencer said the interpretation of that as a direction to fire Morales is incorrect. “I would tell anyone ‘to do what needs to be done,'” he said. He explained it as a comment intended to encourage those to follow the written advice.

Spencer issued a new, confidential opinion to the commission in mid-January. But in announcing its existence, he also denounced a “culture of political finger-pointing, shifting blame, and promulgating unfounded, politically-charged statements” at City Hall. The city attorney was first elected in April.

On Friday he told Urban Milwaukee a culture of leaking exists.

Spencer said an effort is being made to paint the commission as a group that contrived to fire Morales, and he doesn’t believe that to be the case.

You can read the report in its entirety on Urban Milwaukee.

The council’s Steering & Rules Committee is scheduled to discuss the report on Monday. The meeting is noticed to go into closed session.

Categories: Politics, Weekly

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