Thu June 28, 2012
Wi Supreme Ct. sides with journalists on open records dispute
Journalists are applauding a ruling by the Wisconsin State Supreme Court. In an open records suit brought by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel against the city of Milwaukee, the court ruled the city cannot charge reporters for the time it takes to redact confidential information from a public record.
The ruling rejects a demand from the city of Milwaukee that the newspaper pay $4,000 to cover the cost of removing personal information from hundreds of police department records the paper had requested. Bill Lueders of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council says the ruling makes it clear that current state law bars local governments from charging for redaction: “That's a huge gain because custodians have started to do this in the last several years and it has been a huge concern for open government advocates because records are more costly and therefore that much harder to get.”
State statute allows government record keepers to charge a reasonable fee for ‘gathering, copying and shipping’ records to journalists but makes no mention of redaction. It's a law that Kurt Witynski, assistant director of the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, would like to see changed. He says cities need to be able to recoup the cost of the time employees spend redacting open records requests: “We intend to work with the city of Milwaukee and other cities to make that request to the legislature in the next legislative session.”
But Bill Lueders says journalists will oppose such a change. He says raising the cost of obtaining records will reduce public oversight of government actions.