Pauline Haass has long since died, but the interpretation of her will has been disputed for years since -- for so long, in fact, that last year alone legal costs for the dispute between the Lisbon town board and joint municipal library board was estimated at $106,288.
On Monday, Aug. 29, Waukesha County Circuit Court Judge Maria Lazar ruled that the Pauline Haass Public Library Board may intervene as third party defendant in the case, and the parties must enter mediation.
Sussex Village Administrator Jeremy Smith said it only makes sense that the Pauline Haass Library Board be allowed to intervene, since "they're the ones that have claim on the estate."
"The Pauline Haass Public Library Board really started this whole process," Smith said. "It wasn’t the village of Sussex; it was the library board that started all this several years ago.
"The Pauline Haass estate was given to the town for the library, and the town hasn’t ever turned over that asset to the library after the library was created, and so Lisbon was saying they were going to leave the library, and the board said 'wait a second, this estate was supposed to be for a library,' and so that’s where this lawsuit all started from."
Attorneys for Lisbon maintain that Haass essentially gave her estate to the town for the purposes of creating a library, and years later, the town and the village of Sussex entered into a written agreement that said they would create a joint library. Sussex already had a library, so the two merged, and it was called the Joint Library.
"That agreement was approved by the court here by former (now) deceased Judge David Dancey, and the agreement provided that of her assets, a sum amount of a couple hundred thousand would go into the Joint Library," explained Lisbon town attorney Kathy Gutenkunst. "Sussex would make a similar monetary contribution, and the town of Lisbon would keep the balance of the assets, including this land. That was approved by the town. It's laid out specifically in the municipal agreement -- that was 1987."
Lisbon's attorneys said they will file motions for a summary judgment to find out whether the library board can sue or be sued, and whether or it has a legal right to transfer any assets.
All parties will enter into mediation, as ordered by Lazar, to try to find some common ground.
What this means for taxpayers
Since Lisbon sued Sussex, Sussex's taxpayers are not picking up any of the lawsuit costs, Smith said.
“The village of Sussex hasn’t sued anyone, so we’re being covered by insurance costs," Smith said. "Our taxpayers are not paying for this lawsuit; Lisbon sued us, and so, yes, I’m sure the town of Lisbon’s taxpayers are paying for this lawsuit, but they are the ones who chose to sue and chose not to follow what the estate and the will called for with the Pauline Haass estate. It’s unfortunate; it’s certainly not necessary, but I can tell you that the Sussex taxpayers are not paying for this lawsuit."
On the other hand, Gutenkunst said it would cost Sussex taxpayers.
"The people of the village of Sussex need to understand that this is costing a whole lot of money, and from my understanding, the village board didn't even know there was any mediation ordered. Level heads should prevail, and this should be resolved. It's just silly to me," she said.