Swanson sues public safety union for defamation
By Kevin Boneske
ASHWAUBENON – A state civil suit accusing the Ashwaubenon Public Safety Officers’ Association (APSOA) and two of its officers of defamation was filed Wednesday, May 20, in Brown County Circuit Court on behalf of Village Manager Allison Swanson.
The 17-page complaint – which lists Swanson as Allison Buckley, married to Ashwaubenon public safety officer Kevin Buckley – alleges the APSOA, President Eric Paulowski and Secretary Melanie Lovato made false statements when the union announced its no-confidence vote in Swanson.
“Several, if not all, of the accusations made against Swanson by the APSOA, Paulowski, and/or Lovato are false,” states the suit filed by Swanson’s attorney, John Claypool of the Herrling Clark law firm.
Claypool said the suit seeks to clear Swanson’s name and hold the APSOA, Paulowski and Lovato accountable after the union called into question Swanson’s ethics.
He said the First Amendment doesn’t give union members the freedom to spread lies, and they had no legal or other applicable privilege to make false statements.
When the APSOA held a news conference Feb. 6 with Paulowski, Lovato and Treasurer Ben Walker present, the union also released a list of complaints with 22 bullet points containing what it called a “partial list of just some of the egregious behaviors the association has witnessed.”
Some of the union’s complaints about Swanson resulted in state and federal lawsuits along with labor grievances being filed on behalf of past and present union members.
Claypool said he waited to file the suit on behalf of Swanson until after Jim Macy of the von Briesen & Roper law firm conducted an outside investigation of the APSOA’s accusations.
The suit seeks an unspecified amount of damages for defamation and punitive damages.
The village board, which authorized the investigation, accepted the findings and cleared Swanson earlier this month of any wrongdoing or unethical conduct.
“I have a great deal of respect for attorney Macy,” Claypool said. “I have full faith in his ability to complete an independent investigation.”
The suit accuses the APSOA, Paulowski and/or Lovato of making statements “in an attempt to smear, defame, and otherwise damage Swanson’s reputation.”
Those statements, the suit alleges, were made to “attempt to influence the village board to terminate Swanson,” as well as “make it difficult, if not impossible, for Swanson to find employment in other municipalities as a village manager” and as “an attempt to influence the general public to react negatively towards Swanson and treat her negatively,” plus other allegations.
The suit further alleges the APSOA, Paulowski and/or Lovato “have intentionally distributed redacted and incomplete versions of records received in response to open records (requests) to local news media in further attempt to create the impression that Swanson is guilty of some wrongdoing” in an attempt “to encourage the local news media to publish stories that further defame Swanson.”
When asked about what evidence he has to show Swanson has been defamed as alleged in the suit, Claypool said he doesn’t believe it is appropriate to litigate cases in the media.
The APSOA’s attorney, Aaron Halstead of the Hawks Quindel law firm, called the suit filed on Swanson’s behalf “without merit, both factually and legally.”
He said the union will file its response within 45 days after all the parties named are served with the suit, as required under state law.
Halstead said union members have a legal privilege to talk about labor matters, and it is unprecedented for a municipal government manager, who is required by law to negotiate, to sue a labor union.
He said disputes between management and the union should go to arbitration to settle, rather than the parties suing each other.
Halstead said the suit is an attempt to retaliate against the union and its officers, as well as have a chilling effect on the rights of union membership.
He said union members stand by the statements they made about Swanson.
Because Swanson is still employed as the village manager, Halstead said he has a hard time assessing what she lost to be able to claim damages.
He said it would be her choice if she left the position, and it would be impossible to determine her ability for working elsewhere.
Halstead said he finds it “upsetting and outrageous” the investigative reports Macy put together have yet to be publicly released when the suit included citations from what Macy reported.
He informed The Press Times he will be doing that investigation when the reports are officially released by the village, and his investigation is for a different legal matter than the suit filed on Swanson’s behalf.