Superior City Attorney Frog Prell has filed a notice June 24 with the city claiming 2nd District Councilor Jenny Van Sickle made libelous statements about him on Twitter and Facebook.
The comments in question were made in response to a legal opinion Prell issued June 11 concluding that the City Council could draw cards to determine who would serve as president.
Van Sickle posted a tweet June 13 disparaging the city attorney: “Prell has a long established reputation of repugnant incompetence. No one of merit would take this seriously. The opinion itself is riddled with manipulated and irrelevant citations and plenty of contradictions and worse, pure laziness.”
The comments were quoted verbatim in local news media.
In a split vote June 18, the Council opted to censure Van Sickle for the personal attack. Mayor Jim Paine vetoed the move, which he said punished political speech.
The notice of claim filed with the City Clerk’s Office Monday also references a post Van Sickle made to a group Facebook page stating, in part: “Prell consistently misleads the Council.”
Prell has up to three years to file an itemized claim for damages with the city. According to his attorney, Jeff Scott Olson of Madison, that may never happen.
“What we hope is we will become satisfied Mr. Prell has not been damaged and we can leave it at that,” Olson said.
Because Van Sickle is a government employee, state statute requires that a notice of claim be made within 120 days of the event(s) in question to give the city a chance to investigate the facts while they’re still fresh. Such advance notice isn’t required for defamation suits against private citizens, Olson said.
What happens now depends on what harm Van Sickle’s comments made to Prell’s reputation. The Facebook post has been removed and the Twitter account has been made private. That will diminish their effect, according to the Madison attorney.
“And it may be that nobody takes them all that seriously,” Olson said. “The Council certainly didn’t appear to when they censured Ms. Van Sickle for making these comments."