Isthmus newspaper and the Wisconsin Associated Press today filed a lawsuit against Gov. Scott Walker over his office's failure to respond to open records requests regarding emails received by his office.
"The governor said he had gotten more than 8,000 emails as of Feb. 17, with 'the majority' urging him to 'stay firm' on his budget repair bill," says Isthmus News Editor Bill Lueders. "We're just trying to see these largely supportive responses."
The lawsuit, filed this afternoon in Dane County court, names as defendants Gov. Walker and the office of the governor.
Isthmus made its request by hand-delivered letter on Feb. 18, a day after Walker referred to these 8,000 emails and about an hour before he held another press conference saying the number had since swelled to 19,000, again mostly positive. The paper followed this with two communications with Walker spokesperson Cullen Werwie (the second of which, on Feb. 24, was also sent to Brian Hagedorn, the governor's legal counsel). Both asked for an update on the status of the original request.
The Associated Press, through reporter Todd Richmond, emailed its request for the referenced 8,000 emails on Feb. 18. Richmond followed this on Feb. 25 with an email to Werwie and Hagedorn inquiring as to the status of his request and asking that it be expanded to include "all emails the governor has received that mention the budget repair bill."
As of today, the governor's office and his legal counsel have not responded to these requests for records, or provided information on their status.
As the (attached) complaint notes, the state's Open Records Law requires that open records requests receive responses "as soon as practicable and without delay." The complaint states: "Defendants have violated the Wisconsin Open Records Law and Wis. Stat. 19.37(1) by withholding the requested email messages and delaying granting access to the email messages." It calls the defendants' failure to provide these records "arbitrary and capricious."
Isthmus is a Madison-based weekly newspaper now in its 35th year of publication. The Wisconsin Associated Press is the state's largest news service. Bill Lueders is president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, a statewide group that seeks to protect public access to meetings and records. Christa Westerberg, the attorney filing the action, is the group's vice president. The Wisconsin Associated Press is one of the Council's sponsor organizations.
Lueders, in his Feb. 25 email to Werwie and Hagedorn, stated: "My strong preference is never to litigate when it is possible to cooperate, but I should let you know that, given the obvious news value of these communications and the urgency of these issues, media requesters of this information are considering legal remedies." "We deeply regret the need to take this action to compel the governor and his office to comply with the law," says Lueders. "As governor-elect, Scott Walker promised to be responsive to open records requests and to make his administration a model of transparency. [See December 2010 column