UPDATE: Attorney says state could ultimately pay $1 million in damages to Capitol protesters
MADISON (WKOW) -- The lawyer representing six protesters who won a combined $44,830 in damages from the State of Wisconsin earlier this week believes the total cost for unconstitutional arrests and fines handed out by Capitol Police since 2011 could ultimately run over $1 million.
Dane County Judge Frank Remington awarded the first set of damages to Capitol protesters on Tuesday. All six were arrested in the early stages of the 2011 Act 10 protests. The money awarded covered compensation for attorney fees and for loss of liberty, emotional distress and damage to reputation.
Capitol Police were enforcing a rule in the state administrative code that required a permit to hold a sign on state property. Olson filed claims early on in the process challenging the legality of that section of the code, and thus, the lawfulness of the arrests.
"We finally got - after a trip to the court of appeals and back in the circuit court - we got the state to own up to the fact that that was the rule at issue," said Olson.
That led to a ruling that the arrests were unconstitutional, opening the door for damages and attorney fees related to the constitutional challenge. Olson is now going after attorney fees associated with his clients' civil rights case.
"And in this case, it's been going on for so long and we've been to the court of appeals three times, those are going to be well into the six figures," said Olson, who said he represents at least ten more clients seeking damages.
But Olson said anyone arrested under that administrative rule could file a claim, as well as another rule that required a permit for the Solidarity Singers. An appeals court deemed that rule unconstitutional in January.
Olson estimates that hundreds of people could be eligible for awards as a result of those court rulings.
The Wisconsin Department of Administration (DOA) is the agency that oversees Capitol Police and is responsible for the payouts.
27 News asked DOA officials if they will appeal the initial award of damages and if they would comment on the possibility of $1 million in damages ultimately being paid out. 27 News also asked if they would seek to negotiate settlements with other protesters filing suit.
"DOA does not comment during ongoing legal proceedings," was the reply an agency spokesperson emailed to 27 News.
"The taxpayers are paying the bill for the bad tactics of the people they chose to be their leaders," said Olson. "There's a better way to deal with mass civil disobedience and mass protests than to arrest and cite hundreds of people under unconstitutional rules."
Jeff Scott Olson is one of the featured guests on Capitol City Sunday this weekend at 9:00 a.m. on WKOW.
Capitol reporters Scott Bauer of the Associated Press and Shawn Johnson of Wisconsin Public Radio will also join Greg Neumann to discuss the standstill on the state budget negotiations.
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