FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
A group of media organizations, including the Wisconsin Newspaper Association, has filed a motion to intervene in a public records lawsuit sealed by a Racine County judge.
The motion asks the court to allow the group to file a brief addressing the decision to seal all proceedings in the case as confidential. The group also seeks to intervene in the court’s decision and order on Racine Alderperson Sandy Weidner’s open records request and its order finding Weidner in contempt of court for violating the seal orders.
Last year, Racine City Attorney Scott Letteney sought an ethics violation sanction against Weidner for sharing allegedly confidential communications from his office with constituents.
Letteney called for a closed meeting of the council’s executive committee, during which he gave a PowerPoint presentation comprised of mostly emails from Weidner to constituents. The committee referred the matter to the Ethics Board for an advisory opinion.
When Weidner’s request under the state’s public records law for a copy of the presentation was denied, she filed a public records lawsuit.
In an unprecedented move, Racine County Circuit Judge Eugene Gasiorkiewicz sealed the case without issuing any public record of his reason for doing so.
“While the First Amendment right of access to the courts may not be absolute, it cannot be ignored,” the media group’s motion argues. “Proceedings cannot be closed ‘unless specific, on the record findings are made demonstrating that closure is essential to preserve higher values and is narrowly tailored to serve that interest.'”
On Oct. 3, Weidner was held in contempt of court for discussing the case with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
In addition to the WNA, the group of media organizations seeking to intervene includes the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council and the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association.
WNA Communications & Membership Director