Equality Under the Law Toolbox

Type of Case: Open Records

Court: Jefferson County Circuit Court

Case Number: 2015-CV-77

Filed On: February 27, 2015

Current Status: Sherrif turned over unreacted documents and paid attorney fees in settlement 

All around Wisconsin over the past couple years, many (but not all) police and sheriff’s departments have started redacting basic information from citations and reports, the information people want to know most – the identity of the miscreant about whom the report or citation was written. Why? Because that information is usually either obtained from or verified by the DOT drivers’ database, and they think they will get in trouble if they share that information.

That policy is an overreaction to a Seventh Circuit case that held a village in Illinois had “disclosed” identifying information in violation of the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act, a law enacted in the 90’s to prevent DMV’s from selling driver information and stalkers from learning where targets lived through motor vehicle records. But that case was not an open records request case, and the court did not consider any of the 14 exceptions that permit the government to disclose such information. One exception is in carrying out any duty imposed by law, and responding to open records requests is a duty imposed by law; therefore, the DPPA should not require redaction of records.

On behalf of a reporter at Wisconsin Reporter, M.D. Kittle, we brought a lawsuit against the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department for redacting records and claiming the DPPA requires it.  The lawsuit also challenged a form the Sheriff’s Department required requesters to use – the Open Records Law does not permit custodians to require the use of a particular form.  The case settled when the Sheriff’s Department agreed to turn over unreacted records and pay WILL’s attorney fees.