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Trial for city case set for next fall
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MONROE - Three days next fall have been set aside for a jury trial in Green County Circuit Court to determine the case pending against the City of Monroe Salary and Personnel Committee members for allegedly violating state open meeting laws.

An opening on the court calendar - Nov. 18, 19, and 20, 2015 - fit the schedules of Judge Rhonda Lanford and all the attorneys involved. Pretrial is set for Nov. 15, 2015.

Attorneys Greg Gunta for the city, D.A. Gray Luhman for the state and Aaron Halstead for Alan Eckstein met with Lanford for a status conference on Wednesday. Gunta, Halstead and Lanford appeared by telephone.

The attorneys have submitted Jan. 5 and Feb. 9 as dates for designating witnesses and expert reports; April 17 for discoveries to be served; and May 25 for dispositive motions. A dispositive motion would seek the judge's order in deciding a claim or claims in favor of the motioning party, without further court proceedings, but it might not dispose of the entire lawsuit.

Luhman and Gunta requested three days for the trial; Halstead had suggested one and a half days.

The committee is charged with taking formal action in a closed session Sept. 10, 2013, without giving proper public notice of the subject matter and failing to reconvene in open session, as indicated by the agenda, to take its formal action.

During the closed session, the committee had directed its city administrator and city attorney to take actions to terminate the city's water utilities director, Alan Eckstein. Eckstein contends the closed session was for him to meet with the committee to discuss his dissatisfaction of how the city was handling his complaint of harassment. Eckstein said he was then asked to wait outside the room, while the committee continued its deliberations.

Four elected aldermen for the City of Monroe are named in the complaint, Brooke Bauman, Louis Armstrong, Reid Stangel and Charles Schuringa. Bauman, Armstrong and Stangel still serve on the council. Schuringa did not seek re-election in April 2014, and Armstrong was re-elected. Bauman and Stangel are up for re-election in April 2015.

The penalty for knowingly violating a state open meeting law is a forfeiture of between $25 and $300 for each violation. A governmental body may not reimburse a member for a forfeiture incurred as a result of a violation of the law.

In addition to the forfeiture penalty, Wisconsin Statute provides that a court may void any action taken at a meeting held in violation of the open meetings law if the court finds that the interest in enforcing the law outweighs any interest in maintaining the validity of the action.

Eckstein filed his motion to intervene in the case soon after Luhman filed the complaint Feb. 6 for the State of Wisconsin in Green County Circuit Court.

The closed session was listed on the noticed agenda as "preliminary consideration of employee issues addressed by Utility Director." That issue was given a closed session, permitted under state law, for considering employment, promotion, compensation or performance evaluation data of any public employee over which the city has jurisdiction.