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Deputy drops lawsuit against sheriff

Published: Tuesday, July 1, 2014 4:23 p.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, July 1, 2014 11:32 p.m. CDT

WOODSTOCK – A twice-fired Sheriff's deputy has dropped his lengthy legal battle with the department in exchange for clearing him of sizable legal fees and allowing him to resign.

The agreement with McHenry County Sheriff Keith Nygren ends five years of legal wrangling between Zane Seipler and his former boss that played out in federal courtrooms.

In exchange for dropping the civil-rights lawsuit, the Sheriff's Office admits no wrongdoing but agreed to waive Seipler's $240,499 obligation to pay Nygren's attorney and court fees. The Sheriff's Office also conceded to change Seipler's most recent employment status from a termination to a resignation. The Sheriff's Office also will not to contest his unemployment benefits.

Nygren, who has offered little in the way of public comment since Seipler filed the lawsuit in 2008, had much to say about the lawsuit in an interview Tuesday with the Northwest Herald. He rejected the notion that Seipler would receive a positive employment reference as "nonsense."

"We've had to live with this for years and years. We've had to sit back, be professional, and not say anything as this guy has thrown out accusation after accusation," Nygren said.

"... We knew that the truth would come out. He threw a lot of mud at the men and women at this department for a lot of years."

Seipler's attorney Blake Horwitz read a statement from his client in lieu of commenting for this article.

"Mr. Seipler was the first to have the guts to take a stand against a corrupt government. In doing so, he, like many people in history, were subject to tremendous personal risks. The county of McHenry should be thankful that corruption was exposed through a department-wide internal investigation and that there is going to be a new sheriff in town."

Shortly after Seipler first was fired from the Sheriff's Office in 2008, he filed a federal civil-rights lawsuit alleging that he was terminated as retaliation for blowing the whistle on racial profiling at the department.

Nygren said the deputy was fired for issuing tickets or warnings to passengers, rather than drivers, who did not have valid driver's license.

Seipler eventually won his job back through an arbitration, but Nygren fired him again a year ago after a judge said Seipler lied under oath in the civil suit.

Through the course of the litigation, Seipler had access to, and later posted to a blog, the disciplinary records of other deputies – documents that were protected under a court order. Seipler initially said in an affidavit that he didn't know who owned the website on which the documents appeared, then later shifted the blame to his wife, whom he said posted the documents without his knowledge.

For the violation and perjuring himself, Judge Frederick Kapala ordered Seipler to pay $240,499 for Nygren's legal representation during those hearings.

In all, McHenry County taxpayers have paid $100,000 to Nygren's attorney Jim Sotos. Another $800,000 was paid through the county's insurance company, Sotos said.

Changing Seipler's employment status, and vacating the order detailing his lies under oath, could help with the his future employment prospects, Horwitz said.

Nygren said there is nothing in the Sheriff's Office policy preventing Seipler from being re-hired at the Sheriff's Office under a new sheriff. Seipler, who ran for sheriff in 2010, supported Bill Prim in the April primary. Prim will face Jim Harrison in an election this fall to replace Nygren.

"That's a decision for the person sitting in this chair," Nygren said. "But I can't imagine anyone in their right mind doing that. You'd have to explain that to the whole electorate."

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