Office of the
- Claims Dashboard
The City Attorney is a publicly elected official and conducts all legal business for the City and its departments, boards, commissions, and other City governmental agencies including the Housing and Redevelopment Authorities and Milwaukee Public Schools. The City Attorney's Office handles litigation and maintains a docket of cases to which the City may be a party, provides legal advice and opinions, and prepares and examines legislation for the Common Council. In addition, the City Attorney drafts all legal documents required for conducting the business of the City, collects claims and delinquencies, and prosecutes City ordinance violations.
City Attorney Tearman Spencer
Tearman Spencer was elected Milwaukee City Attorney on April 7, 2020 and assumed office on April 21, 2020. Mr. Spencer is the first African American to be elected City Attorney in Milwaukee's history. He is committed to being a voice for the voiceless and ensuring that the City Attorney's Office and Milwaukee are places where all feel welcomed and protected equally under the law.
The City Attorney’s client is the legal entity of the City of Milwaukee. Lawyers are prohibited from providing legal advice to the public or to parties other than the municipal corporation of the City of Milwaukee. The City Attorney’s Office cannot represent or advise private individuals in legal matters.
Office Overview & Organization
Since 1846, the City Attorney has been the lawyer for the City. The City Attorney is elected to serve a four-year term, representing the City, its officials, departments, boards, commissions and other agencies, including: the Milwaukee Board of School Directors (“MBSD”), the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Milwaukee (“RACM”), the Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee (“HACM”), and the Neighborhood Improvement Development Corporation (“NIDC”). The Office of the City Attorney functions as a full service law firm for the City, and has earned the respect of the legal community as being a professional, high quality law office.
By City Charter, the Office of the City Attorney handles City litigation that includes thousands of lawsuits and administrative cases. Assistant City Attorneys litigate civil-rights cases, personal--injury actions, evictions razing cases, labor grievances, contract and construction cases, as well as condemnation and real estate matters. By charter, the office also provides legal advice and opinions to its clients, prepares and reviews City ordinances, resolutions, and opinions, drafts contracts and other legal documents that are required in conducting the business of the city, and prosecutes violations of City ordinances in Municipal Court.
In addition, the Office of the City Attorney collects claims and delinquencies and administers the City’s liability risk-management function and oversees five Special Purpose Accounts: Damages & Claims Fund, Outside Counsel/Expert Witness Fund, Insurance Fund, Collection Contract, and Receivership Fund. The Damages & Claims Fund pays for general liability judgments against the city. The Outside Counsel/Expert Witness Fund is used to retain outside counsel as well as special experts. The Insurance Fund pays city premiums for policies, such as property insurance, auto liability, and public officials bonds. The Collection Contract Fund is used to pay the commissions and fees of outside contractors to collect city receivables and municipal court judgments. The Nuisance Abatement Fund is used to fund expenses related to nuisance abatement and community prosecution.
The Office of the City Attorney is divided into four Legal Sections: Litigation/Employment/Benefits (LEB); Education/Development/Labor (EDL); Ordinance Enforcement/General Services (OE/GS); and Neighborhood Revitalization (NR). Each section consists of approximately 10 Assistant City Attorneys supervised by one of four Deputies. There is also an Administrative/Support Division consisting of approximately 25 support staff.
- LITIGATION/EMPLOYMENT/BENEFITS (LEB)
The LEB Section represents the Annuity & Pension Board and the Employes’ Retirement System, and handles Claims, Deferred Compensation, Personal Injury, Property Damages, Civil Rights Litigation, and Appeals.
- EDUCATION/DEVELOPMENT/LABOR (EDL)
The EDL Section handles Finance, Labor, Inter-Governmental Relations, Legislative Bills, School Board Counseling, the Department of City Development, Licensing, Library and Library Board, Tax Assessor, and Insurance.
- ORDINANCE ENFORCEMENT/GENERAL SERVICES (OE/GS)
The OE/GS Section handles Procurement Services, Public Records, Open Meetings, General Contracting, First Amendment, Public Utilities, Bankruptcy, Ordinance Enforcement, and represents the Department of Administration, the Department of Public Works, and the Treasurer's Office.
- NEIGHBORHOOD REVITALIZATION (NR)
The NR Section handles Nuisance Abatement, Community Prosecution, Strong Neighborhoods Program, the Department of Neighborhood Services, Special Joint Committee on Abandoned & Foreclosed Properties, and Building and Zoning Enforcement.
The Administrative/Support Division provides legal support services to the attorneys as well as administrative support in the areas of office management, budget preparation, fiscal management, policy development, purchasing, HR, and systems and technology management.
To protect the legal interests of the City of Milwaukee and provide quality, timely, and impartial legal services consistent with the highest professional and ethical standards while successfully meeting clients’ needs in accordance with the City Charter and statutory requirements.
Protect the City's interests in litigation.
Provide legal opinions on matters of significance to municipal corporations.
Manage risk so that liabilities do not disrupt finances.
Provide day to day legal advice to City officials and departments.
Reduce nuisances that detract from neighborhood quality of life.
Prosecute municipal ordinance violations.
Maintain active partnerships with City departments so that legal strategies are consistent with operational needs and coordinated among the different departments.
Maintain exceptional standards of integrity and legal expertise through continuing education, competitive recruitment, and professional opportunities.
Continue to implement neighborhood revitalization legal services including housing crisis response, nuisance abatement, community prosecution, and strategic code enforcement.
Other Community Goals and City Attorney's Office Objectives:
Improve the City's fiscal capacity by protecting the City's interests in litigation and managing risk so that liabilities do not disrupt finances.
Support the City's interests and policy initiatives.
Develop and sustain legal strategies to promote respect for individual civil liberties and the rule of law.
Sustain safe and healthy neighborhoods by reducing nuisances that detract from quality of life and prosecuting municipal ordinance violations.
The City Attorney's Office supports the City's goals of building safe and healthy neighborhoods and improving fiscal capacity. It supports these goals by effectively prosecuting ordinance violations, providing legal services related to housing and neighborhood issues, assisting with economic development and affordable housing efforts, abating nuisances through community prosecution and related efforts, and managing financial liabilities resulting from claims and lawsuits.
The Claims Dashboard contains information about Number of Claims by Department, Claim Subjects, Claim Settlements v. Demand for Settlement, Individual Claim Details and more.
SUMMER IN THE CITY ATTORNEY’S OFFICE
The Milwaukee City Attorney’s Office gave me a hands-on and impactful clerkship that actually made a difference in people’s lives. I did real work that attorneys do and received the guidance and support I needed. The City Attorney’s Office is ideal for students like me, who still are not certain what kind of law they would like to practice, because the breadth of law covered by the Office is virtually everything. The City Attorney’s Office represents the City of Milwaukee as an entity, which means it has 95 listed specialty areas ranging from elections to zoning, from civil rights litigation to personal injury. It is impossible to explore them all over a summer, but the attorneys there were great at catering my assignments to my changing interests.
I knew I was interested in trying transactional law and wanted to focus on research and writing, so the City placed me in its section dealing with employment law and contracts. My supervisor, Robin, oversaw all the Assistant City Attorneys in that section, but despite his busyness he always had time to discuss my questions and he gave me insight into the considerations behind running a large legal office. For example, I learned how he balances competing interests like the budget for settlements, current workload of attorneys, and the City’s likelihood of succeeding in a case, and I learned what he looks for in interviewees after decades of experience.
The Assistant City Attorneys gave me hands-on experience and meaningful assignments with real stakes. I got a crash course in First, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendment litigation when I researched the City’s defense against a former employee who alleged that the City conspired through multiple departments to jail, defame, and fire him. I attended days of depositions and drafted follow-up interrogatories for that case. In another case, I helped initiate the City’s response to an employee’s claim of discrimination by race and retaliation. Kate, an Assistant City Attorney, guided me as I collected raw facts, compiled exhibits, and drafted the City’s EEOC position statement, which expressed the City’s initial summary of facts and legal analysis. She took hours of her time to discuss with me what I did well, what she would change and why, and how a practicing attorney’s time constraints affected her decisions.
It has been ten short weeks, but that only scratches the surface. I wrote a memo about the enforceability of non-compete contract clauses for firefighters. I explored the City’s options to incentivize private contractors to send timely invoices. The Fire and Police Commission changed its rules to allow a DACA recipient to become a firefighter after she graduates the fire academy this August because my research confirmed that it could. In another memo, I detailed how a recent Supreme Court case affects the City’s First Amendment advice to its schools.
I am incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to clerk for the City Attorney’s Office. The entire staff was kind, welcoming, and supportive. The free lunches and the full-day celebration of my clerkship certainly did not hurt either. I found several areas of law that appeal to me and a few that do not. I still do not know exactly what kind of law I want to practice, but clerking for the City Attorney’s Office gave me the skills, experience, and confidence to succeed in whichever direction I choose to go.
Wisconsin State Bar Diversity Clerk
Milwaukee City Attorney’s Office, Summer 2022
The City Attorney’s Office participates in the State Bar of Wisconsin’s Diversity Clerkship Program. This program provides a 10 weeks, paid summer employment opportunity where first-year Marquette University Law School and University of Wisconsin Law School students with diverse backgrounds are matched with a wide array of the employers from private law firms, corporate legal departments, and governmental agencies. Student clerks gain practical legal experience, and participating employers obtain valuable legal support.