By Kent Berkley
The legal concept is called “governmental immunity.” It provides protection to local elected officials unless they have unclean hands from involvement in certain types of improper activities. This should provide candidates in Door and Kewaunee Counties who are in the process of submitting paperwork to run for office, with peace of mind that they do not have to put their personal assets at stake in order to serve the community. The doctrine also motivates the electorate to put prudent and ethical candidates in office so taxpayer money will not be used to pay judgments against the local government. A Wisconsin Supreme Court case described the doctrine as a way to protect the public purse against legal action and encourage citizens to use the political rather than the judicial process to restrain public officials. John Fuchs, an attorney with more than three decades of experience in municipal law, says that the governmental immunity is broad, but not an absolute protection for public officials involved in bad acts.
Fuchs summarized by saying that officials can be personally liable for damages based on violations of certain federal rights and can be ordered to do or not do non-discretionary official acts when official duty clearly requires it.