Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council
Minutes of the Jan. 20, 2011 meeting
Capital Newspapers auditorium
1) Meeting was called to order at 1:31 p.m. – Present were Dee Hall, Chris Hardie, Beth Bennett, Michelle Vetterkind, Gina Duwe, Bob Drechsel, Anita Weier, Michael Buelow, George Stanley, Roger Schneider, Dave Pyle, Steve Lovejoy, Bob Dreps, Dick Record, Christa Westerberg, Mark Pitsch, John Foust, Bill Lueders, John Laabs and Tom Bier.
2) Approval of minutes from the 10/14/10 meeting.
3) Treasurer’s report. Drechsel indicated that the dues statements would be going out soon. The report shows $3,654.38 in WisFOIC accounts.
4) President’s report. A) Lueders discussed the meetings of the Legislative Council regarding recommended changes to WCCA, the online court database. Leadership of the council has changed per the new governor. Ed Brooks is now the chair and Kelda Helen Roys is vice chair. The council canceled its upcoming meeting Feb.7. Consensus so far is to expand the availability of expunction (expungement) to more people of all ages; allow dismissed cases, misdemeanors and low level felonies to become closed records and disappear from WCCA. Stanley said scrubbing of the record could make it hard to investigate dangerous characters and how they were handled by the criminal justice system. Dreps questioned whether a dismissed charged in a case would mean all charges in a case disappear from WCCA. Dreps mentioned that some court records already have been altered on WCCA to eliminate more serious charges that have been lowered. Lueders said the committee likely will recommend some type of records access restriction. He said changes to expunction being considered include closing files at courthouses.
B) Lueders recounted a Dane County court hearing in which attorneys tried to exclude the public but the WBA and WNA intervened and Judge Moeser turned it down, saying the notice was given too late and closure was unneeded. Dreps suggested Wis FOIC have a contingency plan to respond quickly to proposed courtroom closings, which require a 3-day notice.
C) Lueders mentioned that the Senate and Assembly chief clerks were interpreting Chapter 19.356 of the open-records law to mean that any public officials mentioned in records turned over under a request would be notified of their right to challenge it legally. He stated that such officials are not entitled to judicial intervention but they can provide supplemental information before it is released. He mentioned that the legislative officials were applying this standard to all records, not just disciplinary records as spelled out in Woznicki. Lueders reported that he and the Assembly chief clerk got into an argument for which he apologized to the board.
D) Lueders gave an update on project Erica Salkin is working on to create an educational video for high school students about the open meetings and public records laws.
E) Lueders reminded members of the April 20 Watchdog Awards banquet.
F) Lueders suggested that he and Christa and the directors of WNA and WBA meet with Gov. Walker to discuss open government issues. Vetterkind of WBA mentioned that she will be participating in a state legislative day and meeting with lawmakers. Schneider mentioned that Walker’s staff was being more forthcoming with his schedule than Doyle had been.
5) Legislative watch. Lueders reported that the Legislature was poised to OK a so-called tort reform bill that could limit access to certain records such as nursing home inspection reports. Laabs said he testified against the portions that allow health care providers to shield their records from the public records law and litigants. Laabs said that could prevent family members from learning about the care of their loved ones or any history of abuse, neglect or code violations at such facilities. Dreps mentioned that there is similar protection in product liability law. Lueders suggested that some media attention to the secrecy might be helpful. Lueders indicated the bill appeared to be fast-tracked, with just 16 days from circulation to passage. Hardie mentioned that some of the restrictions in the bill on expert testimony might be aimed at making it harder to prove damage in stray voltage cases.
6) Wisconsin Watchdog Awards. Lueders announced the overwhelming and unanimous choice of Dave Zweifel for the Distinguished Wisconsin Watchdog award.
7) Opee awards. A variety of nominees was discussed to receive the Political, Media and Citizen Openness Advocate of the Year awards along with Open Records Scoop and No Friend of Openness. The awards will be announced later and formally given out at the Watchdog Awards banquet, cosponsored by the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.
8) (No item was listed as No. 8 on the agenda)
9) Legal update. Dreps recapped the Fond du Lac Reporter case seeking access to an internal investigation of a FDL police officer. After the suit was filed, the special prosecutor turned over a report in which it was concluded no crime was committed. Dreps also discussed the WIAA lawsuit argument at the 7th Circuit in Chicago. The case centers on whether WIAA can sign exclusive contracts for live streaming of high school sporting events, preventing the news media from doing the same. Dreps said oral argument did not go well, as the judges questioned whether the court even has jurisdiction in the matter. He also mentioned the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel lawsuit against the city of Milwaukee, which wants to charge the newspaper for the cost of redacting records. Pitsch also said the city of Madison has tried to do the same. Dreps indicated the case was being watched closely. Hardie mentioned that the La Crosse Tribune is appealing a denial of records from Mendota Mental Health Institute on a local man who killed four people and was now being released. The newspaper feels the records have public interest and shouldn’t be treated as medical records. He also mentioned that the newspaper also has been notified they cannot have court records from the case. They were sealed after the defendant, Bryan Stanley, was found not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect. Dreps said the case may come down to whether Stanley waived the confidentiality of his medical records by petitioning for early release. On a separate matter, Lueders suggested that anyone who spots open-meetings or open-records stories to forward them to him and he will distribute. Bennett mentioned that WNA also produces a report on government openness issues. She suggested that anyone interested in receiving them could contact her.
10) Other business. AG’s office says it can’t stop lawmakers from deleting emails; Gov. Walker agrees new commerce agency should be subject to open records and meetings laws; AG says public interest lawyers not entitled to access juvenile records on WCCA. AG offers guidance on tavern records.
11) WisFOIC website. Duwe said she is considering changing web host services. Possibly considering going to GoDaddy from Your Site. She reported we have 85 fans on Facebook.
12) Council membership. Chris Hardie of the La Crosse Tribune was inducted into the council.
13) Your Right to Know column. Topics were discussed include a March column on the Opee awards. Westerberg suggested a column on recent court decisions on electronic records and on the impact of the tort law on public records. Dreps offered to do a story about fees for public record requests after the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel case is resolved.
14) Other business. The next meeting date was set for Thursday, April 28 at 2 p.m. , at the Capital Newspapers auditorium.
15) Adjourn. Meeting was adjourned at 3:22 p.m.