At the Thursday, Aug. 1 Public Safety Committee meeting, Sawyer County Child Support Director Sandra Okamoto said she had received several requests by Lac Courte Oreilles tribal members who had their child support cases transferred from circuit court to tribal court, to transfer their cases back to circuit court.
However, Okamoto said, she had no direction under the law how to proceed with the requests.
“There is no language in the statute that really covers that,” she said.
Okamoto said there had been a recent hearing before a reserve judge of an LCO tribal woman requesting a transfer back to circuit court, and the woman was told to return to tribal court and begin the transfer process there.
However, she said, it appeared the tribal court had no process or direction for those seeking that transfer request.
Okamoto said a “Judge Anderson” who had helped write the state statute 801.54 “Discretionary transfer of civil action to tribal court,” had a staff person looking into options for the county.
Supervisor Dale Schleeter asked Okamoto why LCO members were requesting to be transferred back to circuit court.
“Usually because no one is returning their phone calls, and they are not receiving any child support, and nothing is being done,” Okamoto said.
Schleeter said if cases were transferred back to circuit court he wanted funding to follow them to help process claims.
“I would like the files to come back completely, because they have taken everything,” she said. “The clerk of court retains the original documents, but we had to give up our file. It would be a long process.”
“That’s why we would need money to re-create files and double-check everything,” Schleeter responded.
Supervisor James Schlender, the former LCO Tribal Judge, missed Okamoto’s remarks but at the end of the meeting during “other matters for discussion only,” he raised concerns that the actions of the child support director could be construed as judicial interference.
Schlender said if an LCO tribal member wanted to transfer out of tribal court, that those persons should apply for a transfer and the case should be heard on its own merits by the tribal judge. Then if the tribal judge rejected the transfer, then there are “. . . reasons to bring it to the state court.”
Schlender advised Administrator Tom Hoff that the county’s legal representative for child support should be advising personnel on how to proceed, and he cautioned against county representatives offering legal advice.
He also took issue with what he described as “picking on tribal court.”
“This has got to stop,” he said. “This has got to be addressed correctly, and if it doesn’t, then there will be an action brought either against the agency, against the person or against the families that are going to be impacted by that.”
Ojibwa storm damage
Sawyer County Emergency Manager Patricia Sanchez complemented first responders who reacted to recent wind and storm damage in the Town of Ojibwa.
“Kudos to all the fire departments,” she said. “Dispatch was unbelievable. The storm hit so hard that people were running non-stop. We had people cutting away trees to get to people and critical infrastructure.”
She said the preliminary damage in the county is estimated at $2.9 million, with several homes having over $40,000 of hail and tree damage.
Later, Sanchez put out an email saying the Town of Ojibwa qualified for Wisconsin Disaster Funds for 70 percent reimbursement of damage-related expenses.
New chief deputy
Sheriff Doug Mrotek introduced former Jail Lt. Joe Sajdera as the new chief deputy, replacing the recently retired Craig Faulstich. Mrotek also introduced former Road Sgt. Jeff Johnson as the new jail lieutenant.
Later Mrotek said there is an issue with climate control in the jail during the summer, making conditions difficult for both inmates and jailers.
Animal control issue
Animal Control Officer Sherry Shelton said two vaccination events at LCO had been successful, with over 100 animals vaccinated and supplies given to the owners.
Shelton also reported a situation involving a camper at the Sevenwinds Casino campground that had 27 small dogs inside. She said the owners were Sawyer County residents but were transient. All of the dogs appeared to be well cared for and socialized with humans.
Shelton worked with the couple and persuaded them to release 22 dogs to the Northwoods Humane Society shelter.
In another matter, the committee learned the ambulance department recently hired three new employees: one paramedic and two emergency medical technicians (EMTs).
Construction of the new ambulance building in the Town of Ojibwa is set to begin Aug. 12.
Second court, judge
During “other matters for discussion only,” Schlender raised an objection to the county considering a resolution that was tabled at the July county board meeting. It would make the county’s acceptance of a second courtroom and judge conditional on the state giving the county additional funding to operate the court.
Schlender said he “understood the merit” of the request, but he challenged the Finance Committee for originating the resolution without first consulting the Public Safety Committee.
Schlender also was concerned that adding the condition for seeking more money would undermine the county’s position with the state.
“We made presentations to various state agencies about our level of commitment, and I asked and told this committee we are either committed or we are not committed, and now we are coming, not even at the 11th hour, but at the sixth hour of this long process, and we are asking for a change of circumstance,” he said.