Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council
Oct. 3, 2013
Capital Newspapers auditorium
1) Call to order. The meeting was called to order at 2:05. In attendance were Dee J. Hall, Bill Lueders, Christa Westerberg, Jim Palmer (guest), Bob Dreps, Mark Stodder, Beth Bennett, Chris Hardie, Mary Callen, Doug Wojcik, April Barker (guest), Michelle Vetterkind, Sean Dwyer, Tom Bier, Jason Maddux, John Dye, Steve Lovejoy, Mark Pitsch, Bob Drechsel, Dave Zweifel and Brendan Fischer (Center for Media and Democracy) appearing by speakerphone.
2) Approval of 6-27-13 minutes. Minutes approved.
3) Treasurer’s report. Drechsel reported WisFOIC’s account balance at $4,815.
4) President’s report. Lueders discussed the following:
a) Lueders’ Sept. 12 testimony on AB 253, the latest bill to gut WCCA, which appears to be dead on arrival; and a possible new bill on expunctions.
b) Statement issued Sept. 13 by FOIC condemning Vukmir/Van Hollen claims that lawmakers are exempt from civil suits, including open-records actions.
c) State Department delegations, including a visit by Syrian journalists, who met with Hall and Westerberg, and an upcoming delegation in November.
d) Updates to handouts on how to use the open-records law and to the FOIC website on open-government problem areas, including delays in receiving public records.
e) Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn’s interest in meeting with FOIC, but not at the October meeting.
5) Legislative update. Lueders shared a memo from the Wisconsin Court System about a proposal to allow expungement of records in cases in which a person is found not guilty, the case is dismissed or the conviction is overturned. Lueders said the council would oppose deleting records from court files. Lueders also reported that Sen. Vinehout and others are proposing that the Legislature follow the open-meetings law like other officials. The council also discussed a bill by Sen. Grothman to eliminate the requirement that candidates list the principal employers of major donors.
6) Legal update. A Madison attorney is suing over a closed civil casing involving gambling machines. The state Supreme Court is considering a case involving exclusion of the public from jury selection; Dreps is writing an amicus brief on behalf of WNA and WBA. The goal is to make public access to jury selection a “fundamental right.” Dreps also discussed the Journal Sentinel’s lawsuit against the state Department of Health Services, which settled quickly with the release of housing leases for “sexual predators”; DHS paid attorney’s fees in that case. Dreps also discussed the appeal of a court ruling upholding Sen. Erpenbach’s redaction of the names of constituents that had been challenged by the MacIver Institute. Dreps reported that the Journal Sentinel is seeking Milwaukee County records turned over as part of the now-closed John Doe investigation. Kelly Rindfleisch also is seeking to block public access to records in her appeal of her criminal conviction related to the John Doe.
7) Issue: Sen. Vukmir/AG Van Hollen claims of legislative immunity. Brendan Fischer of the Center for Media and Democracy appeared by speakerphone to discuss efforts by the American Legislative Exchange Council, of which Vukmir is a leader, to evade Wisconsin’s open records law by using Internet drop boxes and disclaimers that their records aren’t subject to disclosure. Fischer said the idea that Wis. lawmakers are exempt from all civil process is a recent phenomenon. 10 years ago, the attorney general opined the privilege only applied during floor periods of the Legislature, not year-round as Vukmir and Van Hollen are claiming. His brief on legislative immunity is on the CMD website.
8) Issue: Driver’s Privacy Protection Act woes. Beth Bennett discussed efforts by WNA, WBA, the League of Municipalities and the Insurance Alliance to halt the improper use of a recent court decision to deny access to information on records of car accidents, crimes and other incidents involving drivers. Bennett said the groups are trying to convince the AG’s office to stand by its 2008 opinion that the federal DPPA does not require redaction of drivers’ names on police and other records. Dreps is representing the New Richmond News, which is challenging the decision of local police to remove names from three police reports. He suggested more lawsuits may need to be filed to clarify the situation. Callen reported that at least 77 municipalities were redacting drivers’ names in response to the Palatine case.
9) Issue: Wisconsin Professional Police Association. Palmer of the WPPA discussed his group’s lawsuit in Dane County against the Wisconsin Counties Association. WPPA contends WCA is a public body subject to the open-records and open-meetings laws since it is funded by membership dues paid by counties. Palmer said the lawsuit stemmed from WCA’s denial of records to WPPA seeking information about WCA’s efforts to make jailers subjection to Act 10 collective-bargaining restrictions. Other public safety personnel are exempt.
10) Issue: Establishing parameters for protesters’ rights to take photographs. Zweifel said the council should be on record protesting the arrest of people engaged in collecting information. Dreps said a distinction can be drawn between people who are engaging in civil disobedience and those reporting on it. Hardie said anyone at the Capitol who is observing and recording should be considered a journalist. Lueders suggested Council develop guidelines on circumstances under which people should not be arrested or interfered with.
11) Other issues: The Wausau Daily Herald forces a redo of a city committee vote and the Office of Lawyer Regulation seeks authority to release more information about pending cases.
12) Website. No report.
13) Your Right to Know Column. Column ideas were suggested on the DPPA situation, the WPPA lawsuit and the Vukmir exemption.
14) Council membership. No report.
15) Other business. Bennett commended Zweifel for being inducted into the Milwaukee Press Club Hall of Fame. The next meeting date was set for Thurs., Jan. 23.
16) Adjournment. The meeting ended at 4 p.m.