Press&Policy

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel v. WisDHS voluntarily dismissed

Posted in Public records law by foiguy on July 15, 2013

That was quick. One month after the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel sued the Wisconsin Department of Health Services under the public records law, online court records indicate the case has been voluntarily dismissed. I suspect a settlement, though I can’t immediately confirm that.

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Milwaukee Journal Sentinel sues state agency over sex-offender housing documents

Posted in Public records law by foiguy on June 19, 2013

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is suing the state Department of Health Services over access to information about housing for sex offenders.

The lawsuit, filed June 11 in Dane County Circuit Court, challenges the department’s basis for redacting from lease agreements the addresses of rental properties where sex offenders on supervised release are living, as well as the names and addresses of the landlords.

The court action comes amid an audit of the state’s supervised release program for sex offenders. That audit was spurred, in part, by news reports of problems with the cost and processes of the release program. (See here, here and here.)

According to the complaint:

On March 7, Journal Sentinel reporter Patrick Marley requested from DHS “copies of all current contracts to house people on supervised release in the Chapter 980 program.”

Chapter 980 is a state law governing commitment and supervised release of sexually violent persons.

On May 9, DHS communications director Stephanie Smiley responded by email to Marley’s request. Smiley released some records, but claimed – without reference to any law, court case or the public record law’s balancing test – that “personal information” could not be disclosed.

“Personal information has been redacted as necessary,” Smiley wrote.

Smiley did not explain what “personal information” meant or why redacting such information was “necessary,” according to the complaint.

Under Wisconsin’s public records law, a record custodian must articulate a specific and sufficient public-policy basis for withholding a record.

That didn’t happen, the Journal Sentinel says.

“The representation that ‘[p]ersonal information has been redacted as necessary’ is a legal conclusion, not a public policy reason claimed to outweigh the presumption that the information DHS redacted must be disclosed, upon request, under the Open Records Law,” the complaint reads.

The newspaper also says withholding the redacted information prevents the public “from evaluating whether or not DHS is paying fair-market rent under the lease contracts at issue” and “from evaluating whether or not bias or favoritism is involved in awarding the lease contracts at issue.”

The complaint includes a redacted residential lease from Green Bay. The landlord name and address, street address of the leased premises and name of the tenant appear to be redacted.

The Journal Sentinel is asking a court to order DHS to release unredacted leases and to pay for attorney’s fees, court costs and damages.

Robert Dreps of Godfrey & Kahn’s Madison office is representing the newspaper.

Read the complaint

View this document on Scribd

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