Clussman and Steckbauer
Clussman and Steckbauer

After her divorce was finalized in 2010, Vicki Taggatz Clussman found herself facing a nearly insurmountable pile of debt.

As a consequence, she lost her home to foreclosure and has been sued for nonpayment of credit card bills.

A Waupaca County assistant district attorney, Clussman is also a candidate for circuit court judge.

Her opponent, Judge Keith Steckbauer, who was appointed by Gov. Scott Walker to the contested seat in January, believes voters should be informed of Clussman’s financial problems.

Steckbauer worked with his campaign manager, Fred Zaub, to write a letter to the editor regarding Clussman’s finances.

He also emailed to the County Post a link to an article on Clussman’s finances that was posted on Media Trackers, a Wisconsin website affiliated with American Majority, a tea party group based in Virginia.

Clussman’s debt

"As a result of my divorce in 2010, I was left with a number of marital debts. Since that time, I have been working hard to pay off these debts," Clussman told the County Post.

Clussman said that nearly all of the marital debt was assigned to her because she had the higher income.

In 2008, Clussman filed for divorce. More than two years passed before the divorce was settled.

During that time, the couple lost their home to foreclosure. It was sold for $185,000 at a sheriff’s auction in April 2010.

She was sued by her divorce attorney for $5,167 in November 2009.

FIA Card Services sued Clussman for $16,979 in August 2010. A notice that her earnings from the state of Wisconsin would be garnished was filed with the court in November 2010.

DCFS Trust, which handles car loans and leases for Daimler Chrysler, filed a small claims action against both Clussman and her ex-husband in January 2011. An earnings garnishment notice with Wisconsin Disability was filed on her ex-husband in September 2011. Another one was filed with the state of Wisconsin on Clussman in March 2013.

In May 2011, Capital One Bank filed a small claims case against Clussman for $2,277. Court records indicate the claim was fully satisfied by Dec. 5, 2012.

In January of this year, Midland Funding LLC, a San Diego firm that purchases unpaid debt, filed a civil case against Clussman for $3,361.

Court records indicate that an earnings garnishment notice was filed with the state of Wisconsin in February.

"I acknowledge that I have several judgments against me and I have satisfied some but not all," Clussman said.

She said all of the judgments against her involve debts incurred while she was married.

"I could have filed for bankruptcy, but believed that the honorable thing was to work to pay them off, as I am doing," Clussman said.

Steckbauer’s emails

The County Post was alerted to Clussman’s financial troubles when it received a Feb. 19 email, with a subject line, "get this published." The email included a letter to the editor.

The email had been forwarded by Fred Zaug, the current Waupaca County Republican Party chairman, to Ron Reynolds, a former GOP chairman, then to the County Post.

It originated from Steckbauer’s email account. The letter read:

"I write with grave concerns. I do not believe one of the candidates for judge is fit to serve in that role of public trust. While I am sure that Vicki Clussman is a nice woman and a good mother, she has demonstrated that she cannot handle her personal affairs. I looked her up on the Wisconsin Court system and discovered that as recently as January of 2014, she was sued for $3,000, and had a default judgment entered against her, just 30 feet from her office.

"In looking further, I see that she has several judgments, from a foreclosure to unpaid lawyer fees of $5,000. Given what I know about attorneys, it surprises me that any would support someone that stiffed one of their own.

"Mr. Steckbauer has a clean record. Ms. Clussman does not pay her bills, even during a campaign. I think she is unfit, and we need to support Mr. Steckbauer because of his proven integrity."

Steckbauer told the County Post that he worked with Zaug, his campaign manager, in drafting the letter.

"The facts are what they are. I don’t know if my involvement makes any difference in what the facts are," Steckbauer said. "This isn’t about me."

Shortly after the County Post interviewed Steckbauer over the phone, he emailed a written response.

"I believe the issues of personal responsibility are germane to the campaign and should be known to the voters. If the voters consider raising the issue to be inappropriate or unfair negative campaigning, then I will have to live with that choice," Steckbauer said in his March 7 email.

Clussman’s repsonse

"I understand first hand the devastation to families both personally and financially that can come from divorce. Unfortunately, going through a divorce is an all too common experience my fellow Waupaca County residents have, which requires contact with the court system," Clussman told the County Post in a March 7 email.

"Having gone through this will only make me a better, more compassionate and understanding judge to all litigants in all situations," Clussman added.

Clussman noted that her opponent has primarily worked as a family law attorney and should be aware of the financial consequences often related to divorce.

"I think it shows a lack of compassion and that’s (compassion) something I would want in a judge," Clussman said.