$1.4 Million Verdict Against Alderman, City
No immediate payment expected for Bauman's comments in 2007. Case involving controversial housing facility could take several more years to settle.
The City of Milwaukee might have to pay a nonprofit housing provider $1.4 million after a jury found that Alderman Robert Bauman was liable for statements he made about the nonprofit’s facility in his district.
But no immediate payment is anticipated as the city is expected to continue to contest the case. In fact, Thursday’s verdict is just the latest ruling in a case that began in 2007.
The case was first filed as a foreclosure suit by the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority against Tri-Corp Housing, which owned and operated West Samaria, a since-demolished housing facility for disabled residents with a “certified chronic mental illness.” Bauman was later added as a third-party defendant, and the case has twisted and turned through both the state and federal court system. At various points, Bauman has received rulings in his favor.
The lawsuit is now centered around Bauman’s comments and actions that Tri-Corp alleges ultimately triggered its closure.
The alderman’s email to DNS was one of three statements considered by the jury as part of Tri-Corp’s defamation claim.
Bauman, in a press release reviewed by the jury, said West Samaria “has repeatedly demonstrated that they are unwilling or unable to provide quality care to the mentally disabled residents who live there.” The jury determined Bauman spoke with reckless disregard, abused his First Amendment privileges and acted outside of the scope of his employment. The press release was issued after BOZA vacated the DNS order and was critical of Milwaukee County officials for continuing to refer individuals to the facility without care for its condition.
A third claim, that the facility “had bad design, bad location and a bad operator,” was also determined by the jury to be untrue and an abuse by Bauman of his free speech rights. Bauman, according to an email from a Department of City Development, made the claim at a meeting of city, county, and state officials about what to do with the property.
Under an arrangement approved by then-City Attorney Grant Langley in 2020, Bauman has been represented by attorney Matthew McClean of Davis Kuelthau. Previously Bauman had been represented by two city attorneys, both of whom are no longer with the department. The council unanimously approved spending up to $240,000 with Davis Kuelthau to defend Bauman. It also indemnified Bauman against any damages from the trial, agreeing that the city would pay any potential judgments.
Tri-Corp is represented by attorney John Machulak.
A copy of the statements Bauman made and supporting documents, as well as a 2021 defense filing, are available on Urban Milwaukee.