Me­dia win right to chal­lenge sealed Racine court case

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - - Milwaukee Wisconsin - Bruce Viel­metti Mil­wau­kee Jour­nal Sen­tinel USA TO­DAY NET­WORK - WIS­CON­SIN

The Mil­wau­kee Jour­nal Sen­tinel, other news me­dia and open gov­ern­ment groups have won the right to chal­lenge a Racine County judge’s de­ci­sion to seal the en­tire file of an al­der­man’s pub­lic records case.

A three-judge panel of the District II Court of Ap­peals this week or­dered Racine County Cir­cuit Judge Eu­gene Ga­siorkiewicz to “de­ter­mine which spe­cific doc­u­ments” from the record, “if any,” should re­main blocked from pub­lic view, in­clud­ing the docket list­ing plead­ings, or­ders and hear­ings.

Ga­siorkiewicz is sup­posed to com­plete his work within 60 days. Within 14 days of his de­ci­sions, the cir­cuit court clerk must re­turn the full record, in­clud­ing any new ma­te­ri­als re­lated to the re­mand re­view, back to the Court of Ap­peals.

It seems to pre­sume that Ga­siorkiewicz will open up some of the records, as the order in­structs the clerk to “en­sure that the record ac­cu­rately re­flects which spe­cific doc­u­ments or por­tions thereof are sealed.”

The ap­pel­late court order notes that Ga­siorkiewicz had sealed the whole court record be­fore de­cid­ing some doc­u­ments in the un­der­ly­ing ac­tion were priv­i­leged and some were not.

“It ap­pears to this court that the cir­cuit court’s order seal­ing the en­tire record is, at the very least, broader than nec­es­sary to pro­tect the in­ter­ests at stake, given the pre­sump­tion of open­ness in pub­lic records.”

Once the case re­turns to the Court of Ap­peals, the City of Racine, the orig­i­nal plain­tiff San­dra Wei­d­ner, an al­der­man there, and the news me­dia will have 30 days to file briefs.

The case be­gan af­ter Wei­d­ner filed a pub­lic records law­suit for ac­cess to ma­te­ri­als — mostly her own city emails — that the city at­tor­ney had used in a pre­sen­ta­tion to other al­der­men dur­ing a closed ses­sion of the ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee.

She was run­ning for mayor at the time, in the fall of 2017.

But at the first hear­ing on the case, in Jan­uary, Ga­siorkiewicz met with lawyers in his cham­bers and then told peo­ple in the court­room they had to leave be­cause he was seal­ing the case.

It can’t be found on CCAP, the state’s on­line court records in­dex. A search by case num­ber pro­duces a re­sult that only says the case is sealed.

The Court of Ap­peals or­dered that the chal­lengers — the Jour­nal Sen­tinel, USA TO­DAY NET­WORK-Wis­con­sin, the Wis­con­sin Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Coun­cil, the Wis­con­sin News­pa­per As­so­ci­a­tion and the Wis­con­sin Broad­cast­ers As­so­ci­a­tion — be added to the case cap­tion as in­ter­venor­sap­pel­lants, though for now, no one can see the cap­tion.

The City of Racine had op­posed al­low­ing the news groups and the coun­cil to in­ter­vene in the case.

Court of Ap­peals judges Paul Reilly, Brian Hage­dorn and Mark Gun­drum is­sued the de­ci­sion.



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