By Gretchen Schuldt
A Milwaukee County circuit judge on Monday granted a temporary restraining order blocking the city of Milwaukee from terminating JusticePoint's contract to operate the Municipal Court's program that steers indigent defendants to appropriate services and coordinates community service opportunities for people who qualify for alternatives to forfeitures.
Circuit Judge Hannah Dugan said, among other things, that JusticePoint had a reasonable probability of success on the merits and would be irreparably harmed without the restraining order. She set a further hearing for Oct. 31 before Circuit Judge J.D. Watts.
"Everything has to stay the status quo according to the contract," she said.
Sheldyn Himle, chief court administrator of Municipal Court, declined to comment on the ruling.
JusticePoint on Sunday filed suit against the city, alleging the manner in which it was terminated — allegedly without cause, without proper notice, and without a chance to cure any deficiency — violated state law. JusticePoint filed a $5 million claim with the city on June 30 as a precursor to the lawsuit.
Two Municipal Court judges, Phil Chavez and Valarie Hill, arranged the contract termination without consulting the third judge, Molly Gena. The termination was to be effective at the end of the day Monday, July 10. The city never made public any specific allegations against JusticePoint, but said the contract was terminated for the city's "convenience."
The firm's CEO, Nick Sayner, has said the only potential problem he was aware of was JusticePoint's practice of providing copies of municipal citations to Legal Action of Wisconsin attorneys representing the indigent defendants involved in the cases.
Sayner has said the agreement to provide the tickets was hammered out five or more years ago in negotiations involving both JusticePoint and city officials, including representatives of the city attorney's office. When Municipal Court raised concerns about it last March, he said, JusticePoint stopped providing the citations.
WJI will update this story, so check back for more on the hearing. Read our previous JusticePoint coverage here, here, and here. WJI policy analyst Gretchen Schuldt wrote about the issue for the Shepherd Express here.
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