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Part of lawsuit by former Chippewa County official dismissed

Ex-finance director’s suit against Chippewa County still stands

posted Aug. 11, 2017 9:00 p.m. | updated Aug. 12, 2017 11:15 p.m. (CDT)
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by / Eric Lindquist. bio | email

CHIPPEWA FALLS — An Eau Claire County judge has dismissed lawsuits against past and current Chippewa County officials by the county’s former finance director as well as a separate lawsuit against the county by its former risk manager.

Judge William Gabler this week granted dismissals sought by defendants of the lawsuits by former county finance director Dennis Hunt and former county risk manager Connie Goss. 

Gabler threw out Hunt’s lawsuits against county Administrator Frank Pascarella and former County Board Chairman Paul Michels while keeping intact Hunt’s lawsuit against Chippewa County over his firing.

“As a matter of law, Paul Michels and Frank Pascarella have not defamed Dennis Hunt,” Gabler said in the ruling filed in Chippewa County Court.

But Gabler rejected the county’s motions for a summary judgment, saying, “Summary judgment is not a shortcut to avoid trial” and shouldn’t be granted unless there is no room for controversy.

A final pretrial hearing is scheduled at 1:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 7, and a jury trial for Hunt’s lawsuit against Chippewa County is scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m. Monday, Oct. 2.

Pascarella fired Hunt on Nov. 4, 2014, at the same time he placed Goss on administrative leave. Goss later resigned. 

Hunt filed one lawsuit in July 2015 and two more in September 2015, claiming that several county officials defamed him, causing him humiliation and loss of potential future earnings. In August 2015, Goss filed a similar lawsuit against the county for wrongful discharge, slander and libel, and breach of contract. Neither lawsuit indicated a dollar amount sought, but prior claims filed show that Goss was seeking $400,000 and Hunt was seeking about $1.1 million.

The issue that led to Hunt’s dismissal and Goss’ administrative leave arose over a proposal in fall 2014 to add a new position in the human resources office. Hunt contends that Pascarella told him, in a meeting with no eyewitnesses, to provide false information to the County Board so the new position would be approved. Pascarella denies making that statement.

The county released an independent report in December 2015, compiled by E.E. Larsen & Associates of Eau Claire, that backs Pascarella’s version of that conversation, stating Pascarella had no reason to put his professional name on the line and ask Hunt to deceive the board. That report further states Hunt was trying to undermine Pascarella’s authority in hopes of eventually replacing him as county administrator.

The County Board voted in November 2014 that Pascarella acted within his authority to fire Hunt. In June 2015, the board voted 8-6 to extend Pascarella’s contract through Dec. 31, 2017.

In dismissing Goss’s lawsuit, Gabler said, as a matter of law, Goss was not defamed and Chippewa County did not breach any implied contract. 

Contact: 715-833-9209, eric.lindquist@ecpc.com, @ealscoop on Twitter