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The Republican House has been at the center of a lawsuit over who has legal rights to the building, delaying the development of a Boys & Girls Club in Ripon.

More information and allegations have been submitted in an ongoing lawsuit over the Republican House, which will have major ramifications for both the Boys & Girls Club of the Tri-County Area and a proposed National Republican History Museum.

Attorneys for Ripon resident Dan Zimmerman, who has been the caretaker of the Republican House for the past seven years, responded in opposition last week to Republican House owner William MacLeod’s request for an injunction approving the sale to the Boys & Girls Club and for partial summary judgment.

A partial summary judgement is a decision that may be granted upon a party’s motion when filings show there is no issue of fact and that the party is entitled to a judgement in its favor as a matter of law.

MacLeod and Zimmerman have been antagonists in Fond du Lac County Circuit Court since June over whether Zimmerman has a legal claim to the property.

MacLeod has a signed contract to sell to the Boys & Girls Club the Republican House property at 303 Blackburn St., which will be razed to build a state-of-the-art complex for its Ripon site.

The litigation began June 16, when MacLeod sued Zimmerman, claiming neither Zimmerman nor his National Republican History Museum Foundation had a legal claim to the Republican House or the limited liability corporation (LLC) through which MacLeod owns the property.

Meanwhile, Zimmerman alleged in an opposing lawsuit that he worked hand-in-hand with MacLeod to develop plans for a National Republican History Museum and purchase the property through an LLC.

He also claims to have completed work without pay for the LLC over the last seven years, with the understanding that ownership of the Republican House property would transfer to the National Republican History Museum Foundation when adequate funds had been raised for the museum project.

However, Zimmerman and MacLeod do not have a written agreement and MacLeod is the sole organizer of the LLC, which did not keep a membership registry or operating agreement.

MacLeod, through litigation, has denied any verbal agreement exists between the two parties and questioned how closely both parties worked on the initial development of the museum project.

The legal fight has delayed plans for a Boys & Girls Club in Ripon, but Boys & Girls Club of the Tri-County Area CEO Jason Presto said last month that the club remains committed to Ripon as it continues to work behind the scenes to make the Ripon site a reality.

“Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond our control, we don’t know exactly when that day will arrive,” he said via email. “However, we want to assure those that are anxiously awaiting our arrival that we remain committed to that goal and are equally as anxious to serve them.”

Last week Wednesday, attorneys for both parties met with the court for a telephone conference.

According to minutes from the conference, the court cannot conduct required research, reading of documents and schedule a half-day motion hearing by Dec. 31.

Fond du Lac County Circuit Court Judge Dale English will review the documents filed when he can, and when he has further insight as to how he wishes to proceed, according to the minutes.

On Oct. 14, the LLC filed a motion for permanent injunction approving the sale to the Boys & Girls Club and for partial summary judgment in favor of MacLeod and the LLC.

Then, on Oct. 15, MacLeod joined the LLC in requesting approval for the sale and a judgement.

He asked the court to deny Zimmerman’s claims to the Republican House, declare Zimmerman has no right to the property and prevent Zimmerman from making future claims to the property or the LLC.

“At all material times, Zimmerman conducted his affairs and spoke in a manner consistent with MacLeod being the sole member of [the LLC] and having unilateral authority to sell the property,” MacLeod’s lawyer wrote in the brief.

However, in Zimmerman’s Nov. 22 response to MacLeod’s request for an order approving the sale, his attorneys presented more detail on his side of the story, accusing MacLeod of attempting to “erase and rewrite the past seven years” through litigation.

Zimmerman alleges he and MacLeod were introduced in 2014 to discuss Ripon College’s Center for Politics and the People, which is when both developed the idea for a “national museum dedicated to the principles of republican governance.”

At that time, MacLeod allegedly told Zimmerman, “I’ve always thought the Republican House would be an intriguing acquisition,” according to Zimmerman’s Nov. 22 brief.

The brief describes the National Republican History Museum project as a non-partisan endeavor that would “capture a broad spectrum” of political ideas.

“[MacLeod and Zimmerman] agreed that, other than believing in the nation’s founding principles, there would be no ideological litmus test for the museum project, and they would not let any particular ideology influence their decision making,” the Nov. 22 document said.

However, in 2015, Zimmerman reached out to Reince Priebus, the then chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC), for fundraising support, according to the Nov. 22 brief.

Later that year, Zimmerman “traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet with Mr. MacLeod and RNC officials” to inspect RNC archives, according to the Nov. 22 brief. The project also gained support from the Wisconsin State Republican Party.

In addition, the brief noted Turning Point USA Chief Operating Officer Tyler Bowyer met with Zimmerman in April 2020, at which point Bowyer said his donor group was interested in “fully funding the museum project.”

Turning Point USA is a non-profit that promotes conservative values on school campuses with the mission to “identify, educate, train and organize students to promote freedom,” according to its website.

However, the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center, national organizations monitoring hate groups and extremism, have found ties between Turning Point USA and right-wing extremism.

Through litigation, Zimmerman said Turning Point has pledged to enable the non-profit museum foundation to maintain control of the museum itself.

He alleges that Turning Point was going to purchase the property and transfer it to the museum foundation because MacLeod wanted to expedite the sale.

Zimmerman’s response to MacLeod describes communications between MacLeod and Zimmerman, as well as conversations between both men and a lawyer who helped create the LLC to purchase the Republican House.

Many of the specific communications between Zimmerman, MacLeod and the lawyer have been redacted, but it is implied that the conversations show the three men working together to form an LLC to purchase the Republican House.

Zimmerman argued he would not have been included in correspondence between MacLeod and the lawyer if he was not a member of the LLC.

If he was not a member, the Nov. 22 brief argued, Zimmerman would not have been included on the communications as it may have violated attorney-client privilege.

In addition, the brief said Zimmerman opened a bank account for the LLC in Ripon, and gave “seven years of sweat equity” to the LLC in the form of maintaining the property and seeking donors.

Zimmerman alleges he and MacLeod were partners in developing the museum.

Affidavits of six individuals who worked on the National Republican History Museum project in some capacity describe MacLeod as a “silent partner” on the museum project, who donated money to the museum foundation and provided input on various aspects of the project.

“MacLeod was very clearly part of the planning process,” said the affidavit of Ripon resident Kim Davis, who provided grant writing and human resources services to Zimmerman’s museum foundation.

Zimmerman alleges MacLeod changed his mind in May regarding the museum project because he “vehemently disagreed with the politics and practices” of Turning Point USA and felt the organization was “dangerous.”

“Rather than allow Turning Point Endowment to submit an offer on the Republican House property, Mr. MacLeod unilaterally decided to issue a counteroffer to the Boys & Girls Club,” Zimmerman’s Nov. 22 brief said.

Zimmerman argues the issue of whether he’s a member of the LLC must be decided before the court makes any decision regarding the sale of the property, and that there are too many conflicting facts to warrant a partial summary judgement.

If the court finds that he isn’t a member of the LLC, Zimmerman demands damages for his seven years of work toward the museum project as losing the Republican House will cause “irreparable harm” to the project.

He also asked the court to strike portions of affidavits of MacLeod and local realtor Joan Karsten.

Karsten’s affidavit said Zimmerman did not dispute the sale to the Boys & Girls Club until the original closing date of May 28, when he claimed to be a member of the LLC, “which prevented the sale from closing.”

The sale contract was amended in June to require closing by Dec. 30, Karsten’s affidavit said.

MacLeod’s legal representation did not respond via court filings before press time, but his lawyer and a lawyer representing the LLC did send letters to English.

Attorney Jeremy Vanderloop, who represents the LLC, wrote on Nov. 23 that Zimmerman’s position shifted since sending the letter that caused the sale of the Boys & Girls Club to be delayed.

“He abandoned the previous position that he is the managing member of [the LLC],” Vanderloop penned. “This makes the resolution of the motion to approve [the] sale simple as he also admits Mr. MacLeod is a member.”

Vanderloop said recent filings do not provide documentation indicating Zimmerman was ever a member of the LLC, and that no written contract exists with anyone other than the Boys & Girls Club.

“Wisconsin law does not look to course of conduct or the beliefs of third parties to determine membership status of a LLC,” Vanderloop wrote.

Similarly, attorney Alexander Ullenberg, who represents MacLeod, wrote on Nov. 23 that Zimmerman has nothing in writing to prove that he was a member of the LLC, nor is there evidence that any agreement was breached.

“The 196 pages of affidavits, motions and brief just filed describe years of failed efforts to fulfill Mr. Zimmerman’s dream of his foundation building a museum, but none of it is relevant here,” Ullenberg penned. “Nor does it create a legal right or power for him or his nonexistent museum to prevent the sale of the former Chinese Restaurant property to the Boys & Girls Club.”

Written By

Joe Schulz served as the reporter of the Green Laker in 2019 and 2020, before being hired as a reporter for the Commonwealth in October 2020. He is from Oshkosh and graduated from UW-Oshkosh in December with a bachelor's degree in journalism.

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