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Attorney talks about powers of the sheriff at Marathon County jail study panel


WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAU) - An attorney with Ruder Ware brought some insight on the operation of the sheriff's office to the Marathon County jail study panel today.

Attorney Dean Deitrich told the panel that the county board itself has very little to do with the direct operations of the jail. "The sheriff has complete autonomy running the jail. The county board only holds the purse strings." Those findings are set into place under the state constitution and a long line of rulings and statutes that have defined the sheriff as the chief law enforcement officer in the county.

A 1988 ruling by the attorney general to Marathon County said that the county cannot privatize the jail, that the sheriff must run the jail, neither board nor sheriff can use private contractors to run the jail. The county board could not take over the jail by ordinance or motion. The board can exercise control through the budget, but everything else operationally rests with the sheriff.

In fact, the board can do little to remove a sitting sheriff. Dietrich says the only practical answers to removing a sitting sheriff are the recall and the governor. "It is the authority of the Governor to bring forward charges to remove a sheriff. That very rarely happens."

The jail panel will continue working on their recommendations for the county board. They are expecting to have those ready to present next month.