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Lawyer argues Sheboygan mayor disabled by alcoholism

Dwight Darrow tells me he's not related to Clarence Darrow. Still, I think the attorney for Sheboygan Mayor Bob Ryan has a legal argument lots of folks in this state are, unfortunately, going to love. He argues that Ryan - who has a habit of gett...

Dwight Darrow tells me he's not related to Clarence Darrow.

Still, I think the attorney for Sheboygan Mayor Bob Ryan has a legal argument lots of folks in this state are, unfortunately, going to love. He argues that Ryan - who has a habit of getting pie-eyed in public and acting loutish and completely embarrassing the city he represents - is disabled.

In fact, the mayor is so disabled by his alcoholism, says Mr. Darrow, that he is covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

As a result, the Sheboygan Common Council cannot legally remove the disabled mayor from office, argues Darrow. And if Ryan is removed, moreover, Mr. Darrow will recommend that the mayor file a claim against his own city for violating his rights as a disabled man.

Darrow tells me that Ryan has not yet authorized that sort of claim in the event he loses his job. Nor, it seems however, has the poor, disabled mayor told his attorney to stop comparing him to somebody with cancer who has gone through chemotherapy.

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"Let's assume you have cancer and you have gone through chemotherapy and now your head is bald and you are wearing a scarf and your employer is embarrassed about your looks," Darrow told a Sheboygan reporter who basically asked why Ryan couldn't be removed for embarrassing the city. "Do you separate the embarrassment about one's looks from the cancer? I don't know how you do that."

I thought maybe Darrow would himself be a little embarrassed about being caught on camera making such a remark. But no. When I asked him if folks with cancer might be offended by being compared to a mayor who gets drunk in public and makes a fool of himself, the attorney did not back down a whit. He told me it's a good analogy.

Anne Brown, a Kiel resident who has both had cancer and is herself a recovering alcoholic, doesn't think so. Brown says there is "absolutely no comparison."

Alcoholism is a disease, but it is one of will, she said. "The disease of cancer has nothing at all to do with will."

"To suggest that your disease has you doing those things (that Ryan allegedly did) would be to excuse every alcoholic and every behavior there is."

Precisely.

Ryan is far from alone. Lots of public employees all throughout Wisconsin could argue they suffer from the same supposed "disability" that forced them into bars or behind steering wheels.

Over in Sauk County, for instance, four different law enforcement officers have been arrested for drunken driving in the past year or so while off-duty. In Milwaukee earlier this year, an officer was convicted of pointing a gun at two people while he was off-duty and drunk; and it's not uncommon for other officers to be caught driving under the influence.

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There are typically on-duty repercussions such as suspensions or even firings.

Less than a year ago in Sheboygan County, in the meantime, a sheriff's deputy was disciplined by his department after he was shot with his own gun while off-duty at a bachelor party.

It was never clear if the deputy was drunk, although the guy who shot him was originally charged with operating a firearm while intoxicated.

A criminal complaint alleged that the other guy took the deputy's pistol from a shelf at about 1:30 a.m. in the morning, struck a cowboy pose, and then pulled the trigger and said "bang," not thinking the gun was loaded. It was.

Speaking of loaded, Bob Ryan isn't a whole lot unlike other public figures who used to get embarrassed about their misdeeds instead of hiring attorneys who compare them to people who are truly ill and disabled.

You just hope the argument his lawyer is making isn't somehow contagious.

Mike Nichols is a syndicated columnist who spent 18 years writing about Wisconsin for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He is now a senior fellow at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute. This column represents only his personal opinion. Contact him at MRNichols@wi.rr.com .

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