By Kevin Boneske
ASHWAUBENON – The Ashwaubenon Public Safety Officers’ Association (APSOA) and two of the union’s officers are seeking to dismiss a defamation lawsuit brought against them in Brown County Circuit Court by former Village Manager Allison Swanson.
Swanson – who is also identified in court records as Allison Buckley and married to an Ashwaubenon public safety officer, Kevin Buckley – accuses the APSOA, President Eric Paulowski and Secretary Melanie Lovato of making false statements when the union announced its no-confidence vote in Swanson Feb. 6.
The suit alleges the APSOA, Paulowski and/or Lovato made those statements “in an attempt to smear, defame, and otherwise damage Swanson’s reputation.”
Those statements, the suit further 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.”
The defamation suit also 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.”
The village board authorized an outside investigation into the union’s allegations by attorney Jim Macy of the von Briesen & Roper law firm.
The board announced in early May it agreed with the investigation’s findings that Swanson didn’t engage in any wrongdoing or unethical conduct.
Swanson, who is seeking an unspecified amount of damages in the lawsuit filed May 20, resigned as village manager effective July 8.
The seven-page response the union filed last month seeks to dismiss Swanson’s suit by arguing the statements the union made about her “are not capable of a defamatory meaning.”
The APSOA’s attorney, Aaron Halstead of the Hawks Quindel law firm, said none of the statements the union made at a Feb. 6 press conference and in a labor dispute “can reasonably be understood to diminish (Swanson’s) reputation.”
Halstead cited 10 union statements included in Swanson’s lawsuit to argue none of those statements amounted to defamation.
For example, he said the union disagreed with Swanson when she requested no charges be filed against a then village trustee, Ken Bukowski, for his involvement in a disturbance last September.
“This statement does not charge (Swanson) with the commission of a crime, nor does it charge (her) with dishonorable, unethical, or unprofessional conduct,” Halstead said.
Swanson said she and Village Attorney Tony Wachewicz were asked by the then acting public safety chief, Tom Rolling, to look into the matter involving Bukowski and determined the accusations about him weren’t credible and no charges were warranted.
Bukowski, who wasn’t charged for his involvement in the disturbance, resigned as a trustee July 10, two days after Swanson resigned as village manager.
In addition to arguing none of the union’s statements Swanson cites “is susceptible of a defamatory meaning,” Halstead said she is barred by the Workers’ Compensation Act from recovering damages from Paulowski.
He said the Workers’ Compensation Act prohibits suits between co-employees that meet the act’s conditions of liability.
Because Swanson alleges her reputation was injured, Halstead said reputational injuries caused by defamatory statements would be considered “injuries” in the Workers’ Compensation Act.
A new judge has also been assigned to the case.
Thomas Walsh will now hear the case, after being previously assigned to Tammy Jo Hock.