Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

Former City Attorneys File Discrimination Claims

City will spend up $40,000 for outside counsel and could face future settlements.

By - Nov 14th, 2022 05:43 pm
City Attorney Tearman Spencer speaks at a press conference Oct. 29. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

City Attorney Tearman Spencer speaks at a press conference Oct. 29, 2021. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Remember when a newly-hired assistant city attorney was terminated less than a week after she appeared on a Russian state-controlled television network to defend Vladimir Putin? How about a newly-hired assistant attorney who announced his resignation via an open letter that accused City Attorney Tearman Spencer of issuing a politically-motivated, retaliatory directive?

Those incidents are going to cost taxpayers.

Jennifer DeMaster and Christian Thomas, the aforementioned attorneys, both filed employment-related claims against the city.

Because it has an inherent conflict of interest, the City Attorney’s Office is recommending the city hire MWH Law Group for up to $20,000 on each case.

Deputy City Attorney Robin A. Pederson told the Judiciary & Legislation Committee Monday that the city is receiving a favorable hourly rate. It will pay $250 per hour for a partner, $230 for an associate and $125 for a paralegal, all billed in six-minute increments. Emery Harlan is the named partner in the proposed contract.

Committee members expressed disbelief, then voted for the agreements.

“That speaks volumes about the office,” said Alderman Michael Murphy.

“I can never recall where the city attorney has been sued like this,” said Ald. Mark Borkowski. “This is outrageous.”

But their colleague, Robert Bauman, said this might only be the beginning of the process.

“I think we will have this discussion in earnest when we begin debating whether to settle these claims,” said Bauman, a licensed attorney.

In addition to criticizing his personnel management, council members have criticized Spencer for hiring too many outside attorneys and offering to settle too often. The DeMaster and Thomas cases may ultimately exemplify all three problems.

But as Bauman cautioned his colleagues, anyone can sue at any time about anything. He brought up DeMaster’s claim, which Pederson said was about racial discrimination and retaliation. The alderman noted she was a white female.

Spencer, however, is a Black male, and had previously used allegations of racial discrimination in defending his own behavior.

The full council will consider both proposals on Nov. 22.

The city is already spending to defend itself against a discrimination claim involving a former assistant city attorney, Naomi Gehling. Thomas was hired to take over Gehling’s role after she resigned for a new job in a different city department. He later accused Spencer of asking for a retaliatory memo against Gehling, with whom Thomas never worked.

In May, the council approved spending up to $20,000 to defend the city on that claim. An open file in the city legislative system would increase the limit to $40,000. The judiciary committee held the increase in July.

Categories: City Hall, Weekly

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us