Contact: Tom Kamenick, Deputy Counsel and Litigation Manager
414-727-6368 | [email protected]
Jefferson County Sheriff agrees to turn over unredacted GOP booth vandalism records
March 10, 2016 – In July 2014, Matt Kittle, reporter for the Wisconsin Watchdog, made a routine open records request from the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department. He was seeking incident reports and citations related to the destruction of property at a GOP booth at the Jefferson County fair.
When Kittle got the records, he was surprised to discover that basic and vital information had been redacted. Information such as the names of the woman cited (who Kittle was able to identify through other sources) and witnesses had been blacked out. The Sheriff’s Department claimed that a federal law, the Driver Privacy Protection Act, required those redactions.
Last year, WILL and Wisconsin Reporter challenged those redactions in court, filing an open records lawsuit demanding release of unredacted copies of the records. The case was stayed pending resolution of New Richmond News v. City of New Richmond, a case raising the same issue before the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
However, after the court split 3-3, the Sheriff agreed to settle our case by turning over unredacted copies of the requested records and paying WILL’s attorney fees and costs.
“Law enforcement agencies that choose to redact information like this are making a big mistake,” said Tom Kamenick, Deputy Counsel and open government specialist at WILL. “The DPPA contains an exemption for government agencies carrying out their functions, and providing open access to records is a function of every government agency.”
“Wisconsin Watchdog is grateful for WILL’s hard work in this important open records case,” Kittle said. “This is a First Amendment victory for not only journalists and news organizations but everyday citizens who have the right to open records and open governments. As Sunshine Week approaches, we are proud that some disinfectant of sunlight has been spilled in the battle for transparency.”