WILL, IRG Motion for Summary Judgment in SOS Public Records Case

The News: Today, the Institute for Reforming Government (IRG), represented by attorneys at the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL), filed for summary judgment in a public records lawsuit against Wisconsin Secretary of State, Sarah Godlewski. Secretary Godlewski did not respond to a public records request for 189 days. Her delay was unlawful. Only after WILL acted and filed this lawsuit on IRG’s behalf did Secretary Godlewski produce records. Those records show that the Secretary of State’s Office has been using personal e-mail accounts to conduct official state business. IRG is entitled to damages.

The Quotes: IRG Chief Legal Counsel & Director of Oversight, Jake Curtis, stated, “Over a year ago, IRG’s Center for Investigative Oversight submitted a simple request for public records regarding the unusual circumstances behind former Secretary of State Doug La Follette’s retirement and the appointment of current Secretary of State Sarah Godlewski. It is unacceptable how the Evers Administration ignored this public records request for months and we are grateful that WILL has represented us in this matter.”

WILL Associate Counsel, Skylar Croy, added, “The public records statutes ensure transparency and openness in government. When state officials use personal e-mail accounts to conduct state business, those records must be turned over upon request as soon as practicable and without delay. Requesters cannot be left hanging for months or years wondering when their request will be fulfilled. This filing seeks to remedy these wrongs.”

Additional Background: In March 2023, IRG submitted a public records request to the Secretary of State’s office—seeking records of communications between Governor Tony Evers, former Secretary of State Doug La Follette, and current Secretary of State Godlewski. Despite numerous requests for updates, the request remained unfulfilled for months. At one point, the Secretary of State’s office responded that they were gathering records and would follow up “soon.”

After months went by, WILL filed a lawsuit on behalf of IRG. In subsequent media coverage, Secretary Godlewski blasted IRG in the media for requesting supposedly non-existent records—a point she never communicated to IRG in the several months prior.

A month later, Secretary Godlewski claimed in an email to IRG that she had no responsive records. She also claimed that an earlier response to IRG’s public records request was not required by law because she purportedly had no records.

Even though Secretary Godlewski claimed to have no responsive records, she produced emails between herself and Secretary La Follette. These emails were sent and received on personal e-mail accounts, including “[email protected].” The two discussed official state business, including hiring public employees and the state budget.

WILL is asking the Court to declare that any emails on such private accounts are still public records when they’re used to conduct government business and that the Secretary of State’s “no response needed” policy is unlawful. WILL further asked the Court to award attorney fees and damages, including punitive damages because the delay was arbitrary and capricious under Wis. Stat. 19.37(3). A decision is “arbitrary and capricious” if “it lacks a rational basis or results from an unconsidered, willful and irrational choice of conduct.” We believe Secretary Godlewski’s behavior falls under that category.


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Skylar Croy

Skylar Croy

Associate Counsel

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