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Wednesday, July 23, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 71.0° F  Fair
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WATCHDOG

Developer Cliff Fisher deals with fallout over courthouse clash
When push comes to shove

Cliff Fisher says he got pushed down, then ticketed.
Cliff Fisher says he got pushed down, then ticketed.
Credit:Carolyn Fath
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If this were The Daily Show, we might joke that Cliff Fisher can be a bit of a dick. But it isn't, so let's just say the Madison developer, who owns millions of dollars in property downtown, is a colorful character who isn't above holding a grudge.

A few years back, Fisher had a bad experience with a state DNR official named Ron Daggett. He felt Daggett gave him an unduly hard time on asbestos removal at Fisher's Metropolitan Place development, which last year went into receivership. And so when he heard that Daggett's teenage son was in court for allegedly harassing a mixed-raced couple, Fisher showed up to take it in.

The Jan. 15 hearing was held on the first floor of the Dane County Courthouse. Afterward, Fisher stood at the back of the courtroom, by the open outer doors. He was talking to the couple and pointed Ron Daggett out. When Daggett approached, Fisher says he remarked: "The nut doesn't fall far from the tree. Your son is a scumbag, just like the old man."

At this, Fisher says Daggett pushed him, knocking him down. Daggett told deputies a different story, that Fisher was blocking his way, and upon being touched on the arm "threw himself to the floor." Daggett's wife backed him up, saying it was "the worst fake fall she had seen," according to the deputies' reports. Two other witnesses said they saw Fisher fall, but no push.

Deputy Dawn West issued $312 disorderly conduct citations to both men, saying they "created a disturbance in a highly public area" and "were both unreasonably loud." (She could hear them yelling from within the courtroom.) "Their conduct was unacceptable and could have caused possible harm to others in the immediate area."

On Feb. 16, Daggett entered a plea of not guilty. On April 3, his citation was dismissed. Greg Venker, an assistant Dane County prosecutor, says he did so on his own accord, after reviewing the file: "The impression I got was that Mr. Daggett was not the substantive instigator of any disturbance. I felt that, if taken to a contested hearing, the state's ability to prevail would be low to nonexistent."

Fisher's citation was assigned a different assistant district attorney, Jay Mimier. His review of the case prompted no dismissal. But, at a pretrial hearing last Thursday, he agreed to review witness statements obtained by the defense. As of press time, the citation against Fisher remains pending, and the case is headed for trial.

Fisher is incensed, saying that if he had "knocked down" a state official at the courthouse, "I would have been handcuffed and dragged upstairs." Daggett, he says, kept telling the deputies, "I'm a law enforcement officer, just like you guys." (Daggett declined an opportunity to comment.)

Bruce Rosen, Fisher's attorney, smells a rat. He says the altercation occurred right in front of the interracial couple, yet the deputies barely asked for their account.

And so Rosen hired a private investigator to talk to the couple, and to a county weapons screener who was present. The couple relayed that Fisher used no profanity and did nothing wrong, and that they would be willing to testify on his behalf. The woman affirms this to Isthmus, expressing shock that authorities dismissed the citation against Daggett but not Fisher: "They did? Oh my goodness. That seems backwards."

The investigator also spoke to Sergio Malagold, a veteran weapons screener at the courthouse. Malagold related that Daggett said something to Fisher like, "Get out of my way, [expletive]," and then pushed him down.

Malagold reviewed the investigator's report, provided by Isthmus, and attested to its accuracy: "That's what happened."

Fisher's trial is set to begin June 1. Rosen says he's stunned that the charges have not been dropped: "We're stuck with the case, and we're the victim."

What they're doing to that bank

It's a question anyone who spends time on Madison's Capitol Square has probably heard, if not asked: "What are they doing to that building?" But amazingly, hardly anyone has asked it of the folks who know.

For the past few months, work crews have been transforming U.S. Bank Plaza ("Glass Bank"), acquired last year by Urban Land Interests. The sloped glass fronts have been replaced with cube-like structures with energy-efficient glass and insulated flat roofs. New heating and cooling equipment and high-speed elevators have been installed, and a six-story widening of the south wing of the building is being built.

The renovation will add about 20,000 square feet. And it's expected to reduce energy costs by over $300,000 a year.

ULI's Brad Binkowski says the original sloped glass windows proved to be "kind of a bad idea." They had no insulating value and pulled in huge amounts of heat, so that "the energy costs were outlandish." He calls the rehab "really an example of what you can do to transform an energy hog into something that's state of the art."

Moreover, the new flat roofs will function as terraces, hopefully in time for the first Concerts on the Square program on June 24.

U.S. Bank Plaza, built in 1972, was designed by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill of Chicago, whose other credits include the Sears Tower and John Hancock Building. At the time, it was considered visionary, a national prototype.

Binkowski is excited by the chance to "make a masterpiece better. We're improving on what I think is a terrific building."

Kids on mom, dad: Beats me

The recently released 2009 Dane County Youth Assessment, by far the most comprehensive overview of what is being done by and to area children (responses were garnered from more than 24,000 area students, 90% of the total in grades 7 through 12), shows an overall decline in risky drug use and sexual behaviors.

But, in a category that's not been asked before, 7% of high-schoolers and 8% of middle school students reported being physically hit by a parent to the point of being bruised within the last year.

Cheryl Kato of the Rainbow Project, which works mainly with kids under 10, says she's not surprised. She thinks some kids may be exaggerating, but, "given what we see every day," it's also possible the incidence of parental hitting is being underreported.

Jennifer Wilgocki, with the Adolescent Trauma Treatment Program at the Mental Health Center of Dane County, says the level of reporting, though congruent with some national numbers, lacks context: Was the hitting a one-time event or part of a pattern of abuse?

Still, she says, "It's the kind of thing that should jump out at people."

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