Robert J. Dreps
Inducted into the Wisconsin Newspaper Hall of Fame in 2016
As the primary voice of the WNA legal hotline for decades, Robert Dreps’ zeal to keep Wisconsin’s government open has inspired legions of young reporters. to keep prying those doors ajar. Dreps hears his share of elementary questions from rookie reporters and has been the news media’s voice before the Wisconsin Legislature with respect to significant public access legislation.
No matter the gravity of the issue, Dreps treats each caller to the hotline as though he or she is the most important person in the world. With an uncanny ability to simplify the sometimes-obscure legalese and provide relevant takeaways for WNA members, Dreps distills legal issues to layman’s terms. He responds to clients more like a peer than the seasoned litigator and brief-writer he is.
Over a span of 30 years, Dreps’ aggressive defense of journalism’s role in democracy has made him an unsurpassed role model for young reporters and an unparalleled advocate for Wisconsin’s community newspapers and their mission of publishing the truth and holding public officials and record custodians accountable.
Dreps has been the go-to legal counsel for the news media in many groundbreaking open records, open meetings, defamation, reporter’s privilege, and other media law cases throughout his career. He has taken causes to court victory, on behalf of state and national newspapers as well as other news media organizations in the state and federal courts of Wisconsin and beyond.
Each of his victories must be multiplied exponentially, one WNA publisher notes, for each stopped the tides of secrecy that would have followed any successful individual effort to keep records secret. One opponent of transparency begets thousands when they prevail. It is fair to say that, on many occasions, Dreps literally stopped the tides from rising.