LEGAL ANALYSIS: Karger’s leadership role outweighed his free speech

Marathon County Administrator Brad Karger’s role as the county’s leader prevailed over his right to free speech, in relation to his 30-day suspension for participating in a May rally, according to a legal analysis made public this week.

The report, released Tuesday by Corporation Counsel Scott Corbett, is the final piece of an investigation conducted by the law firm von Briesen and Roper for the county’s executive committee.

The investigation examined Karger’s role in a May 31 peace march—attended mostly by the Hmong community—which was organized in support of Dylan Yang. Yang was 15 when he fatally stabbed 13-year-old Isaiah Powell and faces 60 years in adult prison following his conviction.

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Some law enforcement officials were offended by the rally, which prompted the county board last month to suspend Karger for 30 days without pay. The board didn’t have access to the legal report before voting on Karger’s suspension.

The analysis argues that Karger’s duties outweigh his right to legally protected speech. It looked at a number of criteria, such as how Karger’s speech and participation would affect harmony with coworkers or his ability to do his job. Karger’s participation “amplified messaging that local law enforcement and the criminal justice system treats Hmong-Americans differently.” The report also says Karger’s actions “appeared to promote one ethnic or minority group or another.”

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Today, Aug. 18, the board will reconsider Karger’s suspension, which sparked controversy among Hmong and non-Hmong residents, who felt the board was stifling Karger’s right to free speech. A new vote opens up the floor to a range of options from rescinding the suspension to firing Karger altogether, Corbett says.

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