County spent thousands on coroner investigation

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Ted Sullivan
Thursday, December 16, 2010
— Rock County spent about $17,300 to hire an attorney to investigate complaints against Rock County Coroner Jenifer Keach and her chief deputy.

The county hired Nowlan & Mouat law firm in Janesville to review allegations of election violations, misconduct in public office and a hostile work environment because it wanted an independent person outside the county to handle the investigation, said Dave O'Connell, human resources director.

The time it would have taken the county to investigate the complaints and whether the county had staff for the work was considered when hiring the law firm, O'Connell said. The history of complaints against the coroner's office also was a factor.

County officials evaluate every complaint separately and decide whether it merits an internal or outside investigation, said Jeffrey Kuglitsch, corporation counsel. All complaints are checked out.

"The county takes complaints very seriously," Kuglitsch said. "We'll look at each complaint in a case-by-case basis."

County officials have a duty to protect all employees whether they work for the county or an elected official, O'Connell said.

The county didn't send the investigative report to Gov. Jim Doyle's office, O'Connell said. Doyle is the only person with the power to discipline a coroner.

The Rock County District Attorney's Office did receive a copy of the report, he said.

Deputy Coroner Michelle Walworth filed the complaints against Keach and Chief Deputy Coroner Louis Smit.

The investigation found substantial evidence that Keach might have violated state statutes related to election campaigning. It also found that Smit might have violated county policies related to elections.

Evidence was not found to support claims of a hostile work environment, retaliation or misconduct in public office, according to the report.

Keach and Smit denied wrongdoing and claimed the investigation was flawed.

Rock County voters in November re-elected Keach to a four-year term ending in 2015. However, county voters also approved an advisory referendum to replace the elected coroner position with a county-appointed medical examiner in January 2015.

The Rock County Board is expected to decide in early 2011 whether to switch to a medical examiner.

Last updated: 3:48 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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