Racine contempt hearing opened to the public after WNA steps in

A Racine alderwoman’s contempt of court hearing will be open to the public, a result of advocacy by the WNA and other media organizations.

Last year, Ald. Sandy Weidner filed a lawsuit seeking public records from Racine’s city attorney. In a move that confounded open government advocates, Racine County Circuit Judge Eugene Gasiorkiewicz sealed the case.

After Weidner discussed the lawsuit earlier this month with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the city of Racine filed a motion calling for her to be sanctioned.

Weidner’s hearing on the contempt of court motion was initially set to be closed to the public. Gasiorkiewicz granted a request to open the courtroom made by Brian Spahn of Godfrey & Kahn, who was advocating for the WNA, the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, USA Today Network and Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council.

Gasiorkiewicz denied Spahn’s request to unseal the motion for sanctions, stating it contained information from the sealed lawsuit.

Case files remain under seal

“I want to make myself quite clear: I’m willing to open this courtroom for the issue of the contempt,” Gasiorkiewicz said during the hearing. “With respect to the content of the actual seal order, it’s not going to part and parcel.”

The judge reiterated during the hearing that Weidner must abide by his secrecy orders.

“This court’s position, Ma’am, is that whether or not you agree or disagree with my seal order, it is the order of this court,” Gasiorkiewicz told Weidner at the hearing, The (Racine) Journal Times reported. “You must be compliant with that order, even if you think it is imprudent or an abuse of exercise of discretion, you must be compliant with that order until a court of appeals, which your present council has brought before it as an issue, makes its determination.”

Weidner’s contempt of court hearing is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 3.