In May 2020, five officers of the Executive Board of the Republican Party of Kenosha County were served papers containing a Cease/Desist/Retract order from Joseph Clark, of Pleasant Prairie. The subject of the letter was a social media post on the RPKC’s Facebook page directed at Clark which shone a light on several unethical or unsavory actions he allegedly made in his community involvements. It also mentioned his financial contributions and volunteer work for Democratic candidates and causes while claiming to be a Republican. Clark took offense to the remarks and individually sued the five officers of the RPKC Executive Board for defamation. The post had few comments, shares, or likes. The board voted not to settle and Clark filed suit.
The RPKC officers who were sued were advised by their attorneys that the case was frivolous and one that Clark could not win. Clark was considered a “public figure” to most attorneys who were consulted, therefore he would obviously be subject to certain levels of scrutiny. Clark is a former Kenosha County Board Chairman and Supervisor, and the former President of Kenosha Cares Coalition. He also often speaks out at Kenosha County Board Meetings and through letters to the editor in the Kenosha News. At the time, Clark had also targeted at least two of those named in the suit with seemingly defamatory public remarks, a bold move for someone attempting to sue for the same thing. Also, in most defamation lawsuits, you must prove that you sustained damages from the incident. Clark never produced any damages. Counsel advised all five RPKC officers to remain silent about the lawsuit, which is common advice from any competent attorney.
Attorney fees for the RPKC officers were initially covered by insurance through the Republican Party. Some of the officers used their private insurance policies to cover costs as well. Members of publicly known boards, whether they’re for non-profits, government, or otherwise, are often under fire, especially those of a political nature. Knowing its members are frequently threatened in a variety of ways, the other members of the RPKC Executive Board voted unanimously to approve spending to defend all five officers after the insurance funds ran out. According to RPKC meeting minutes, members named in the lawsuit abstained from voting, as did another member who had a conflict.
In Clark’s recent social media posts, he claimed his initial demands of the lawsuit were only for a donation to the Kenosha Community Health Center as well as a sum for legal fees. KCE has determined this is misleading. In Clark’s original Cease/Desist/Retract letter was a series of demands, including access to all RPKC social media by an IT specialist of his choosing, who would be paid for by the defendants. Clark claimed he required access to the RPKC social media to confirm the retraction of the offending post was complete. In addition, Clark demanded alteration to the RPKC’s method of posting on social media, and demanded that all social media posts be approved by a majority of the RPKC board. The RPKC officers refused to comply with these demands as they stated it would jeopardize the security of the RPKC information and place unreasonable restrictions on their ability to communicate with members.
Joe Clark’s original letter states these four demands:
1. Pay attorney’s fees to my office of $500.
2. Make a donation to the KCHC of $1,000.
3. Agree to adopt a policy that any social media posts by your entity will be approved by a majority of your Executive Committee.
4. Ensure that all social media footprint of this post is removed. That will be confirmed by Mr. Clark using an IT specialist to confirm the same. That cost will be paid by your or your organization and will not exceed $1,000.
Joe Clark also recently stated multiple times online that he was intent on defending his “good name.” However KCE is aware that Clark asked the judge in a formal motion on August 31, 2022, not to allow the defendant to bring up a recent arrest and conviction. Clark was arrested in June 2021 for disorderly conduct/domestic abuse. His wife visited Clark’s place of business and seemingly accused him of cheating, after which he pushed her into a wall and out of the office, then following her to the parking lot and hitting her car window. His wife stated that Clark knew “all the lawyers” who had “made charges disappear in the past,” according to the complaint. His daughter told police that she was upset and “my father can’t continue to get away with this,” but would not elaborate. Clark’s wife said that Clark had been violent with her in the past. The misdemeanor charge against Clark was dismissed, and a non-criminal ordinance citation was issued and he plead guilty to that. Clark is presumed innocent of the criminal charge.
Kenosha Cares Coalition, a group that Clark was actively a member of, at least for some time, has been fined in the past for breaking campaign finance laws, and has also admitted to being connected to an alleged scandal involving nomination signatures during a campaign, a possible felony offense. His wife questionably signed Mr. Clark’s name to nomination papers for Monica Yuhas (D), who was running for re-election to the County Board at the time. The democratic Racine DA chose not to charge Clark or Yuhas (D) due to timing issues. Clark did admit that his wife signed the paper for him because he was ill.
The lawsuit against the RPKC board members has since been settled. The defendants’ attorneys argued that Clark was a public figure at the time of the incident, but the presiding judge ruled in favor of Clark, stating that the length of time from when Clark left the County Board to the incident was too great for him to still be considered a public figure. Erin Decker, who remained the lone defendant in the lawsuit after the others were dismissed, decided to settle rather than accrue any additional legal bills for the RPKC. Clark has spoken boldly about the more than $20,000 spent by the RPKC, but he has not mentioned the tens of thousands of dollars he spent himself. He also stated in a recent social media post that he believes the lawsuit is the reason Decker and others resigned from the board this year. After speaking with several of the members who resigned, we learned they were never asked to resign by others on the board, nor did the lawsuit play into any of their decisions.
We asked Clark why it was improper for RPKC to use its funds to defend the lawsuit. “Certainly a good question,” he responded. He told us that he couldn’t locate an entity within the files of the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions, so he sued them all individually. “I think the bigger question is why didn’t they resolve this sooner?” Although the defendants rejected the initial offer in the Cease/Desist/Retract letter, they tell KCE that they tried many times to settle early in the process but Clark didn’t respond. “In my case, not being a public figure lowers the burden for me and improves my chances of a favorable outcome,” said Clark. “Certainly people settle to avoid the additional costs vs the possible outcomes.” That is exactly what happened here.