Both former employees say they acted in University’s best interest

Alex Nemec

In response to the lawsuit filed by the UW System, representatives for both former University of Wisconsin Oshkosh Chancellor Richard Wells and former Vice Chancellor Thomas Sonnleitner argue the suit has no merit.

Attorney Raymond Dall’Osto, of Gimbel, Reilly, Guerin & Brown LLP, also Wells’ lawyer, said the lawsuit came as a surprise and mediation could have been a better solution than immediately filing the suit.

“I would’ve rather seen a sit-down between the two parties instead of a lawsuit,” Dall’Osto said. “Let’s fix perceived problems with what’s currently wrong instead of resorting to the scapegoating that’s happening now.”

According to the countersuit filed by Thomas Sonnleitner on Jan 30, 2017, Sonnleitner devoted a vast majority of his entire professional life to serving UWO.

“All of the actions described in the complaint were undertaken within the scope of his employment, in good faith and for benefit of the University,” Sonnleitner’s countersuit stated. “Sonnleitner was acting with the knowledge and consent of his superiors and representatives of Plaintiff Board of Regents.”

Dall’Osto said he and Wells would be filing their response in the coming weeks, and it will mirror statements made in Sonnleitner’s countersuit.

“Richard Wells and Thomas Sonnleitner have done their best to improve UWO facilities and care for the students,” Dall’Osto said.

Sonnleitner’s lawyers had no comment for this article.

According to the Department of Justice-commissioned report by retired Dane County Circuit Court Judge Patrick Fielder, Wells said the memoranda of understanding (MOUs) did not bind the University.

“[Wells] indicated he was aware he did not have the authority to bind the University in this manner, stating ‘I couldn’t bind the State of Wisconsin to debt,’” the Fielder report stated.

The Fielder report states Sonnleitner also knew he did not have the authority to bind the University in this manner.

“Upon further questioning, he admitted he did not give the Foundation Board any follow up documentation that stated the MOUs were not valid and were being withdrawn,” the Fielder report stated. “He agreed it would have been better practice to do so.”

Dall’Osto said Wells and Sonnleitner have nothing to hide.

“[Wells and Sonnleitner] simply followed advice of lawyers and other Foundation people,” Dall’Osto said.

Dall’Osto asked what the losses were in the lawsuit.

“The most noteworthy thing about the lawsuit is that doesn’t involve personal gain,” Dall’Osto said. “Everything was done for the benefit for the students and the University.”

The Fielder report states it is essential to note the University and the Foundation Board are separate and distinct entities and Wells and Sonnleitner bear sole responsibility for the allegations.

Dall’Osto said the allegations Wells is facing has been a like a knife through the heart.

“Wells devoted his life to UWO,” Dall’Osto said. “He made UWO a great school. I still wonder why this lawsuit had to be.”