WHO IS JOANNE KLOPPENBURG?
The zealous hammer of the ideologically driven regulatory state.
Kloppenburg vs. Joe Homeowner
As the state’s environmental law enforcer, Kloppenburg represented the DNR and state in cases that angered developers, homeowners, and businesses, and she has argued against more local and legislative control (especially when Republican legislators took actions to protect citizens upset over what one labeled DNR “arrogance.”)
“It’s a good example of government gone amok,” said the lawyer for a couple who accused the state of rendering their dream property worthless through bureaucratic bungling and zealousness. In another case, Kloppenburg praised as “wonderful” a court decision where a woman couldn’t build a deck on a lake home she inherited from her grandfather.
One case involving Kloppenburg sparked an upset Wisconsin couple to write the governor , accusing the state of rendering their property worthless through bureaucratic bungling and zealous regulation. “It sure puts a sour note on our life,” said one homeowner of the state action against him.
A few other cases of Kloppenburg going after average homeowners include:
Homeowners William and Lynn Gerrits didn’t want to have to move their home near a creek in Kaukauna and they had a variance from the zoning law that said the buildings needed to be 75 feet from the water. It would cost $50,000 to move their house back 18 feet more, and only parts of the home (the deck, and part of the garage) were within the 75 feet. A local county board granted the couple a variance because it determined that the local government failed to tell the homeowners the house was too close to the creek when issuing a building permit. The board found the home was not contrary to public interests. The attorney for the couple noted in court documents: “In a day when raw sewage is dumped into our lakes by cities after heavy rainstorms; in a day when it is commonplace for beaches to be closed due to unhealthy levels of contaminants, we find the state of Wisconsin bringing its force not to clean our lakes and streams, but to make a homeowner move a deck and garage,” But Kloppenburg, argued for the state that the couple didn’t deserve a variance, “We are not picking fights with anybody,” she said. “We want to make sure statewide everybody is following the same standards. … Studies show indisputably that development within the setbacks does harm water quality over time. The science is very sound.” (AP, Jan. 13, 2004).
In Ozaukee County, a couple purchased two plots of land without realizing they were on wetlands. They built their home, garnering necessary approval from town and county and also thinking they had DNR approval. However, when they started to build the house for their daughter, they learned the DNR had stated the land sat on wetlands. The couple sued the DNR, although DNR officials said it was possible to resolve the dispute. They accused the DNR of essentially taking their land. However, a DNR inspector told the couple they were unlikely to get proper approval to build the home for their daughter after they had already obtained a mortgage and permits for it. Upset, the couple penned a letter to Gov. Jim Doyle that said in part, “Our property is being held hostage by the government, and we have been deemed guilty by a government employee. We now sit with property that was valued at over $ 500,000 up until Oct. 8, 2002, now virtually worthless. We have a mortgage for a house that we cannot build. We have lost thousands of dollars on this project. We have spent thousands of dollars for attorneys. We can’t sell or refinance our house. We have lived in this house for nine years without any clue of any of this. We went to every agency possible, prior to purchasing these properties. We have paid full property taxes on both properties. Never once, in all these years, did anyone ever mention anything about wetlands.” Kloppenburg was the attorney who filed a motion in court to dismiss the couple’s suit on behalf of the DNR. She alleged the couple should have known they couldn’t build on the land, saying maps denoting the wetlands existed before they brought the property. (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, June 27, 2003)The couple’s lawyer, in another news article, stated, “It’s a terrible and tragic situation, a good example of government run amok.” Kloppenburg filed a motion to dismiss the couple’s lawsuit. (AP, June 25, 2003).
A Janesville man believed that low water, because of wetlands, depreciated his property’s value. A lake district sided with the man, arguing in court that the DNR was violating the rights of property owners. The DNR refused to raise the lake level. Property owners had battled to do so since 2003. Said property owner Bruce Harrison to the Janesville Gazette newspaper: “It’s affected the beauty of the shoreline because, as the water retreats, it leaves a muddy mess. It’s also affected my ability to use my watercraft. I’m sure it has affected my property value.” The DNR had categorized wetlands as “public rights” despite the properties being privately owned, alleged the attorney for the lake district. Kloppenburg, who represented the DNR, sided with a hearing examiner who ruled for the DNR by saying statutes didn’t allow consideration of the economic impact on properties.
A Forest County man battled state officials to keep his retirement home. He had been ordered to move the $170,000 home because it was 15 feet from a lake. The state Supreme Court overruled the appellate court and said the man didn’t have to move his home. The 74-year-old man told the media he just wanted to retire in peace. ”I’m getting so . . . old. I won’t see the end of the case by the way it’s going,” the man said. ”It’s getting too expensive.” The media said a contractor had erroneously built the man’s home too close to the lake. The elderly man had spent more than $80,000 in legal fees. It would cost $130,000 to move the house. A judge had disagreed with the local county saying it was wrong to make the man move his house. The appeals court overruled the judge. The state Supreme Court was unanimous in its decision siding with the judge and allowing the man to not have to move his house. Although she was not listed on court documents as the attorney of record, and while acknowledging the decision was fair, Kloppenburg was interviewed by the media and praised the case for reinforcing the rights of the state to enforce shoreline zoning codes. She said the case “’reconfirms the paramount interest of the state, of all of us, in the protection of our waters through shore land zoning.” (Wisconsin State Journal, July 2, 1998.) Kloppenburg has also been at the center of opposing state Legislative attempts to rein in the power of the DNR and state Department of Justice when it comes to environmental enforcement (she has supported the DNR’s greater pursuit of power in court). In some of those cases, which reached the state Supreme Court, incumbent Justice David Prosser disagreed with Kloppenburg, who argued for the DNR to have more power, and the Legislature to have less, when it came to disputes between the state and private landowners.