A downtown property at the center of a court case over a raze-or-repair order has been sold.
Cynthia A. (Hunt) Clendenon
Edwin Luling Nash
Michael Patrick Terry
Esther Marie Silha
The Rock County Board in December will revisit the idea of having armed security guards at the courthouse.
Brent Sutherland, director of facilities management for the county, told the board at its meeting Thursday a resolution on the topic will resurface next month.
The board’s General Services Committee tabled the idea in February.
For the most part, county leaders say arming security guards is the right move. Who or what group will provide the guards is yet to be determined.
Rock County Sheriff Troy Knudson said adding armed guards to the recent security upgrades at the courthouse would be “another important step forward.”
Global Security Services, the company currently in charge of courthouse safety, has different levels of security packages.
The county’s current three-year agreement with the company provides three unarmed guards stationed at the entrance of the courthouse, but for an additional $13,000 annually, the county could arm them, bumping up the total cost from $75,000 to $88,000
Rock County Sheriff’s Office deputies could be another option for providing armed guards, which would cost the county about $176,000 per year.
At Thursday’s meeting, Sutherland said most of the judges in Rock County are on board with arming security guards and said acts of violence against courthouses have increased since the early 2000s.
Brad Utter, president of Global Security Services, said the company has qualified guards and that 30% of its employees are veterans. He said his company’s guards haven’t had to use lethal force in at least a decade.
“We’re willing to do whatever we need to do to make sure we have an effective security force here,” he said.
Knudson said the issue has been on the table for a long time and that he feels for guards who don’t have firearms to protect themselves or others.
“I do think maybe armed security would help protect them (guards) a little more and potentially the courthouse, but I still think eventually if we decide to go with deputies, it would be an even larger step forward,” he said.
While deploying sheriff’s deputies as courthouse guards would be more expensive, the sheriff said he thinks that’s the route the county should go.
“You have different training if you’re using a contracted provider, different policies, different authority levels,” he said.
Knudson was also worried about communication between outside contractors and law enforcement during an emergency. If the county chooses to arm guards, Knudson said he would help however he could regardless of which option the board chooses.
District 16 supervisor Phil Owens said having armed security in the building would provide law enforcement extra backup in an emergency.
Danette Rynes of District 3 said she would prefer deputies over a private company. She worried about the aftermath if a contracted company were to use deadly force at the courthouse.
“I think we owe our citizens and our employees of the building someone armed down there who has an oath of office to serve and protect, has proper training, has accountability,” she said.
“If we’re going to have someone armed down there, it needs to be someone that’s an officer.”
The remaining shell of a downtown building could be torn down as soon as December after a potential buyer failed to submit a plan to save it.
Luther Ledic of Rocket Realty and Property Management had until Nov. 1 to submit to the city a plan of rehabilitation for the building at 13 N. Main St., but no plan was submitted, city Building Director Tom Clippert said.
“I take it as a personal loss I was not able to create a plan to save it (the building),” Ledic said.
Costs for repair and concerns with zoning codes, which he chose not to publicly specify, prevented Ledic from submitting a plan for rehabilitation, Ledic said.
“We are disappointed. I was really looking forward to finding a way to save the building,” Ledic said.
Ledic in May entered a commercial purchase agreement with the property’s owner, Bruce Monson, with the intention to save the building.
Monson still owns the property and will continue to own the empty lot after the city demolishes the building, Clippert said.
City officials have no plans to buy the property, Clippert said.
The city issued a raze-or-repair order for the building in September 2018. The city and Monson negotiated for months but could not reach an agreement.
The building is a safety hazard that likely will collapse if nothing is done, Clippert said.
The rear exterior wall facing the Rock River was removed, the inside of the building has no structure and there are holes in the floor, Clippert said.
It will cost the city $158,443 to demolish the building. That cost will be billed to Monson, Clippert said.
Clippert is working to schedule a meeting between the contractor, Fisher Excavator out of Freeport, Illinois, and neighboring property owners to discuss how the building will come down.
Legends bar and O’Leary law office occupy the adjacent buildings.
Demolition will be tricky, and details will be hashed out at the upcoming meeting, Clippert said.
The entire building will have to come down, leaving behind an empty lot, Clippert said.
To prevent the building from being razed, Monson would have to enter a compliance agreement with the city, create a plan for how he intends to renovate the building to code, provide a financial plan for the rehabilitation and have cost estimates from contractors, Clippert said.
A downtown property at the center of a court case over a raze-or-repair order has been sold.
President Donald Trump asked the Supreme Court on Thursday to shield him from a New York grand jury’s demand to see his tax returns and other financial records, setting the stage for a constitutional clash over whether the president has “absolute immunity” from being investigated or prosecuted.
It is the first of two appeals from Trump that seek to protect his tax returns from investigators. The House Oversight Committee has been seeking the same records. On Wednesday, the full U.S. appeals court in Washington refused to block the subpoena. Trump’s lawyers said they would appeal that case as well.
The justices are not required to hear Trump’s appeal or to decide the cases. But considered together, the pair of appeals raise significant questions about the separation of powers and whether the president has a privacy right to shield his personal records from congressional investigators or state prosecutors.
If the justices vote to hear Trump’s plea, it could result in a major election-year ruling on whether a president is above the law while in office.
The Supreme Court has never before said the president was immune or shielded from all investigations while in office. However, the Constitution says the president may be removed from office only through impeachment by the House and a conviction in the Senate.
The New York prosecutors who sought the tax returns are expected to file a response within 10 days. Meanwhile, Trump’s lawyers are expected to move quickly to appeal the ruling involving House investigators. The justices might take some time to decide on what to do.
The New York probe does not concern Trump’s actions as president. Rather, District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. is said to be investigating “hush-money” payments to two women, one a porn star and the other a former Playboy model. As part of its investigation, the grand jury sought eight years of the Trump Organization’s financial records from Mazars USA, its accounting firm, including Trump’s personal tax returns.
Even if the grand jury’s subpoena is upheld and Mazars complies with the order, it does not mean Trump’s tax returns will be made public. The grand jury operates under a rule of confidentiality.
Nonetheless, Trump’s lawyers went to federal court seeking to block the order while the president is in office. William Consovoy, a private attorney for Trump, relied on what he called a “temporary absolute presidential immunity.” In response to a question from one lower court judge, the attorney argued last month that Trump should be shielded from answering questions even if the president shot someone on Fifth Avenue in New York. During the campaign, Trump once famously said he was so popular among his base that he could do it and not lose support.
A federal district judge and a three-judge panel of the 2nd Circuit Court flatly rejected the claim of immunity. The judges pointed out that beginning with Thomas Jefferson in 1807, presidents have been required to respond to court orders seeking documents. In the most famous case, President Richard Nixon was required by the Supreme Court in a unanimous 1974 decision to turn over to prosecutors his White House tape recordings.
President Bill Clinton was required to answer questions under oath in response to a civil suit over a sexual harassment claim. He too suffered a unanimous defeat at the Supreme Court in 1997 when he sought temporary immunity while in office.
Citing the example of Nixon’s Oval Office conversations, the 2nd Circuit Court said Trump and his lawyers failed to “explain why, if executive privilege did not preclude enforcement of the subpoena issued in Nixon, the Mazars subpoena must be enjoined despite seeking no privileged information and bearing no relation to the president’s performance of his official functions.”
Justice Department lawyers have long maintained the president is not subject to criminal prosecution while on office. The Supreme Court has not ruled directly on that issue.
Chief Judge Robert Katzmann of the 2nd Circuit said the appeal in Trump v. Vance raised a narrow issue. The grand jury’s subpoena does not compel the president “to attend court at a particular time or place, or … compel the president himself to do anything.” The order was directed at his accountants.
“We conclude only that presidential immunity does not bar enforcement of a state grand jury subpoena directing a third party to produce non-privileged material, even when the subject matter under investigation pertains to the president,” Katzmann wrote Nov. 4.
The House Oversight Committee has broad investigating authority. In February, it heard testimony from Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal attorney, who said he believed the president “inflated his total assets” in some financial statements and “deflated his assets” at other times. The committee’s late Chairman Elijah Cummings asked Mazars to furnish Trump’s financial records, including regarding Deutsche Bank’s decision to reduce the interest rate on Trump’s $125 million loan after he became a candidate for president.
When the accounting firm refused, Cummings issued a subpoena to Mazars in April seeking eight years of Trump’s financial records and tax returns. He said the committee was looking into whether Trump “engaged in illegal conduct” before or during this time in office, had “undisclosed conflicts of interest” and had complied with the “Emoluments Clause of the Constitution,” which forbids office holders from taking undisclosed gifts from foreigners.
Trump sued in federal court to block the subpoena but lost before a federal judge and in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals last month. Judges David S. Tatel and Patricia A. Millett rejected Trump’s claim that the House subpoena should be blocked because it was allegedly aimed at law enforcement, not new legislation. They said Congress has always had broad power to investigate because these probes often reveal the need for new legislation. House Democrats were exploring the need for new ethics and disclosure laws, they said. Tatel was appointed by Clinton and Millett by President Barack Obama.
Judge Neomi Rao, a new Trump appointee, dissented. She said the majority “breaks new ground” by upholding a subpoena based on Congress’ “legislative power” even though it is “investigating allegations of illegal conduct against the president.” She suggested the demand for documents would have stood on stronger ground if it arose from an impeachment investigation.
“Allowing the committee to issue this subpoena for legislative purposes would turn Congress into a roving inquisition over a co-equal branch of government,” she wrote.
Trump’s lawyer asked the 11-member appeals court to reconsider the decision, but that request was turned down. Rao dissented, along with Judge Greg Katsas, a second new Trump appointee, and Judge Karen Henderson, an appointee of President George H.W. Bush.