Privacy right trumps tort court orders, says Kremers

 

By GEOFF DAVIDIAN

© 2002 MilwaukeePress.Net

MILWAUKEE, Wis. (Aug. 28, 2002) -- Kathy A. Stover, a 46-year-old native of Topeka who is licensed to practice law in Kansas and Missouri, received at least a temporary reprieve from a Milwaukee judge Tuesday in a contemptuous battle with a musician over the contents of her computer.

 

Stover was jailed from April to July for contempt of court after refusing to obey an injunction ordering her to allow musician Michael Jahnz and his attorney to browse through her computer and destroy any files referring to Jahnz or the rock band REO Speedwagon, with whom she had a professional relationship.

 

The court ordered Stover to pay Jahnz and his wife $650,000 in damages, but that wasn't enough for Jahnz's lawyer, Edward Hannan, who on Tuesday asked Circuit Judge Jeffrey Kremers to consider criminal contempt as well as remedial monetary sanctions against Stover.

 

Hannan asked the judge to order the sheriff to enter Stover's lakeside apartment and seize her computers, monitors, mice, keyboards, mouse pads and floppy drives and deliver them to his client.

 

"What we're doing is protecting the system," Hannan argued. "My client comes to this court as a taxpaying citizen of Milwaukee County who got a remedy and the remedy was refused. We have contempt here that is willful."

 

But Kremers said the right to privacy trumps the injunctive remedy.

 

"If the court issues an injunction, it has the authority to enforce it," the judge said. "But there may be some tort orders that are more egregious to enforce than the wrong they are trying to remedy. There must be a point at which we weigh the right to privacy against the court's order."

 

However, Kremers ordered Stover to pay Hannanís legal fees for two appearances on the contempt issue but denied Hannanís request that Stover pay by a specific date.

 

Stover moved to Wisconsin in 1998 to work for the city but was fired a year later. That was just the beginning of her bad luck here.

 

In addition to the Jahnz suit, Stover is suing REO Speedwagon in an unrelated case that goes to trial next month. Her former attorney is suing her for fees. Meanwhile, while she was jailed for 105 days in the Milwaukee County House of Correction for contempt, the medical staff misdiagnosed a skin ailment and treated skin cancer with Band-Aids and hydrocortisone cream.