Sheriff Seeking More Deputy Positions Loses Lawsuit Against County

In his 2015 requested budget, Sheriff David Clarke of Milwaukee County, Wisconsin asked the County for funding for an additional 119 deputy sheriff positions and an additional 58 correction officer positions. The County’s 2015 budget only authorized an additional 17 deputy sheriff positions.

In response, the Milwaukee Deputy Sheriffs Association and Clarke jointly filed a complaint against the County seeking declaratory and injunctive relief and a writ of mandamus. Clarke sought a declaration that the 2015 budget was arbitrary and unreasonable, that the 2015 budget created unsafe and unreasonable working conditions, and that the 2015 budget prevented him from fulfilling his constitutional and statutory duties.

When a trial court dismissed the lawsuit, Clarke appealed. The Wisconsin Court of Appeals upheld the decision in the County’s favor.

The Court started with the observation: “We recognize the following powers of the Sheriff as constitutionally protected: the operation of the jail, attendance on the courts, maintaining law and order, and preserving the peace. However, the constitutional prerogative of the office of sheriff to maintain law and order and preserve the peace does not encompass the power to appoint or dismiss deputies. The appointment and dismissal of deputies are non-distinctive internal management and administrative tasks. Accordingly, we conclude that Clarke does not have constitutional authority to appoint law enforcement officers.

“There is no dispute that Clarke has a constitutional right to enough financial resources to fulfill his constitutional duties. Once again, those duties include the operation of the jail, attendance on the courts, maintaining law and order, and preserving the peace. However, Clarke does not argue that he does not have enough financial resources; he argues that he does not have enough law enforcement officers. In fact, Clarke concedes that the County provides enough financial resources to carry out his constitutional duties through the use of overtime.

“We agree with the trial court that the use of overtime might not be the best fiscal option. However, because the County’s 2015 budget does not prohibit Clarke from fulfilling his constitutional duties – albeit through the use of overtime – and because Clarke does not have constitutional or statutory authority to hire as many law enforcement officers as he sees proper, we conclude that the County’s 2015 budget is not arbitrary or unreasonable.”

Milwaukee Deputy Sheriffs Ass’n v. Milwaukee County, 2016 WL 3064611 (Wis. App. 2016).