Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

Morales Payout Rises Still Higher

City must also pay its private legal team. Total cost of lawsuit will exceed $668,000.

By - Jul 19th, 2021 05:27 pm
Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales. Photo from the Milwaukee Police Department.

Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales. Photo from the Milwaukee Police Department.

The City of Milwaukee’s settlement with ousted police chief Alfonso Morales will cost more than the six-figure check the City Treasurer is poised to write Morales.

Morales himself is poised to receive $500,000. His legal team, led by Gimbel, Reilly, Guerin & Brown partner Frank Gimbel, will split another $127,000. The city will pay the law firm and its client with a single check.

But the city must also pay in two more categories. It will need to pay $1,575 to Resolute Systems to cover Morales’ share of a failed mediation process before retired judge David E. Jones. It will also need to cover its own costs for the failed mediation effort.

The final category is the city paying its own legal team. City Attorney Tearman Spencer secured council approval to hire Cade Law Group and Nathanial Cade to work as outside counsel on the case. Cade himself is to be paid $350 per hour in six-minute increments and another firm attorney, Carlos Pastrana, $250 per hour.

The costs for Morales and his legal team, as well as the mediator, would come from contingent borrowing. The costs for Cade Law Group would come from a pre-approved fund for outside legal counsel.

On Monday, the Judiciary & Legislation Committee discussed the settlement, reached last week, for the first time. Alderman Michael Murphy estimated that Cade Law Group would receive $40,000, the max allowed under the contract.

The settlement agreement was reached last week, with Cade negotiating alongside Mayor Tom Barrett and council designee Alderman Ashanti Hamilton. Morales was unanimously demoted last August by the Fire & Police Commission before his deadline to respond to 11 directives issued by the commission expired, leading him to successfully sue for violation of his due process rights.

“We determined the $627,000 as a lump sum so we wouldn’t have this back and forth with regard to legal fees,” said Cade. “At a certain point we thought we were in essence bidding against ourselves. Raise a little bit over here, a little bit over there.”

Barrett, at a press conference last week, said the amount was approximately $626,000 and that Morales would receive $500,000. Cade, who was reportedly writing up the settlement at the time of the press conference, said he continues to make “minor tweaks” to the agreement in consultation with Gimbel, but the amount isn’t changing.

Hamilton said he was pleased with Cade’s work. “I think we got our money’s worth,” he said.

Barrett, at the press conference last week, said he thought the deal was fair to taxpayers and both him and Hamilton said they looked forward to turning the page on the matter.

But on Monday, council members on the committee disagreed that it was fair.

“I would not categorize this as fair to the taxpayers because this was totally avoidable,” said Murphy.

He expressed frustration with both City Attorney Spencer and the seven-member Fire & Police Commission. Singling out part-time commission members and full-time attorneys Steven M. DeVougas and Angela McKenzie, he said they “should have known at least a little bit about due process.” He also said the city attorney’s office was slow to respond to the suit, delaying the case.

“This is unfortunate, it was totally avoidable, it was poor management and I’m angry about it,” he said.

But Murphy said he would still support the settlement. “This is one of those things… where you have really bad decisions either way.”

Ald. Robert Bauman defended himself and his peers. “The one piece of city government that is totally blameless here is the Common Council,” he said. “We are just sitting here holding the bag as the entity that ultimately has to pay the piper and these settlements.”

“In my mind there is still a debt to be paid,” said Bauman. He wants the three remaining commissioners still on the board to resign. “I think we need to a complete new slate with the Fire & Police Commission.”

“At the end of the day it’s their vote; whether the city attorney told them to stand on their head and whistle dixie is irrelevant,” he said. “They directly cost the taxpayers $627,000.”

Nelson Soler, Raymond Robakowski, McKenzie and DeVougas have either resigned or been replaced as their terms expired. Ann Wilson, Everett Cocroft and Fred Crouther remain on the commission.

“As far as I am concerned they should be resigning immediately,” said Bauman.

He said there was a silver lining. “I think it does provide some stability to the Milwaukee Police Department,” said the alderman. He endorsed acting chief Jeffrey Norman getting the job permanently, a position Council President Cavalier Johnson and other council members have taken.

Ald. Scott Spiker said he had prepared a two-page, single-spaced speech at 5 a.m. But by the time the afternoon meeting came he decided not to read it. Instead he offered a fairly succinct speech. “I feel exactly the same way my colleagues have expressed,” he said. “I put it more bluntly as a royal screwup.”

“This was completely avoidable,” said Hamilton, also expressing frustration. “Even if other people are unwilling to take their own medicine, we can take ours.”

He rejected Bauman’s reasoning that the council was entirely blameless. “Unfortunately the entities that got us to this point are all extensions of the city. We don’t get to separate ourselves from the other people called to the table to do the work of the city,” said the alderman.

Hamilton did agree with Murphy’s assertion that the city attorney’s office took too long to respond, delaying closure on the suit. “Truly it was an avoidable situation and it could have been handled a whole lot quicker,” he said.

The committee unanimously endorsed the settlement. The Finance & Personnel Committee will consider the borrowing associated with the settlement on Wednesday. The full council will review both measures on July 27th. Mayor Barrett will then need to sign the agreement. The settlement agreement gives the city until August 1st to approve the deal.

Morales also must do some budgeting on his end. The payment will be taxed as income under federal law.

The chief became an increasingly controversial figure following an evidence leak in a sexual assault investigation involving an FPC commissioner just before the then-acting chief was given a four-year term in December 2019 and the department’s summer 2020 response, including a false claim of a Molotov cocktail thrown at officers, to the protests that occurred following the killing of George Floyd. The issue came to a head at the six-month performance review for Morales in July 2020, but the commission demoted him before the timeline on its directives to the chief expired.

Morales’ case received help multiple times along the way. City Attorney Tearman Spencer, in a filing, agreed that Morales was denied his due process rights. Then in DecemberMilwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Christopher Foley ruled in Morales’ favor and ordered him reinstated. In May, Foley set a 45-day timeline for that to happen. That timeline was to allow Morales to return as chief on Saturday, July 3rd before it was delayed until the 12th by the parties and then to the 15th.

A full copy of the settlement is available on Urban Milwaukee.

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