WAUSAU - Former Washington County Commissioner Lynn Gothard appears to be making good on her November 2016 promise to sue the Town of Wausau.
The Town received a letter Monday from Gothard's attorney, Tiffany R. Cruz of firm Friedman & Abrahamsen, advising if the Town does not respond, the firm will move forward with Gothard's claims.
In November 2016, Gothard told the Town Council - which, at that time, included her father, then-Mayor B.J. Phillips - that she intended to file a lawsuit based on Wausau Fire Department’s refusal to sell her a political ad in the department’s annual Possum Day event program. Gothard asserts she was denied her right to equal time and faced retaliation from Fire Chief Sam Rudd, whom she says holds a personal grudge against her.
"…It appears [Gothard's] advertisement request was the only one rejected, period," wrote Cruz. "Certainly, Ms. Gothard's election may have been prejudiced by this action, as the annual Possum Festival is widely attended, and Ms. Gothard lost valuable exposure due to these actions. Additionally, this is a violation of her First Amendment right to exercise speech in a forum that was open to the public and other candidates."
The Town of Wausau could not comment on pending litigation, and Greg Wilson, attorney for Sam Rudd, had not returned a call to Washington County News for comment at press time Tuesday.
Gothard also filed complaints with the state Commission on Ethics and the Florida Elections Commission regarding the issue. Both complaints were ruled as unfounded by those respective panels.
The Elections Commission issued their ruling on the matter just last month, on August 16.
"Based on the complaint, report of investigation, staff's recommendation, and oral statement made at the probably cause hearing, the Commission finds that there is no probable cause to charge [Rudd with the alleged violations]," said the Commission in a September 5 email to Wilson.
Violations listed in the complaint alleged that Rudd had used his official authority or influence as a municipal officer for the purpose of affecting the results of the August 30, 2016 Republican Primary, in which then-incumbent Gothard was defeated.
“I want a public apology and for (Wausau Fire Chief) Sam Rudd to be given a two-year suspension,” Gothard told the council in November. “I am willing to negotiate a settlement and sign waivers that I will not bring litigation against the town if (the apology and suspension) doesn’t happen, this is the last time I will appear before this council without legal representation.”
“He violated my civil rights, discriminated against me, and intentionally targeted me,” said Gothard. “I feel like if the council doesn’t do anything, you’re condoning what he did because you’re the authority on taking care of the chief of the town.”
Meanwhile, the department says Gothard’s ad wasn’t accepted only because it was submitted more than two weeks after the advertising deadline.
“When we made our rules and we started accepting money, we made it plain and clear we had a date,” firefighter Adam Smith told the council in that same meeting.
Cruz states in the September 22 letter that "another 10 people successfully placed campaign ads" after Gothard's was rejected and has given the Council until October 6 to contact her office with a reply.