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  • August
    30
    2012

    Wisconsin Supreme Court Opens Term With Oral Arguments on Open Records Law

    Aug. 30, 2012 – Whether a municipality must provide a newspaper with unredacted legal bills under the state's Open Records Law is the first question of the term for the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

    Joe Forward

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    Wisconsin Supreme Court Opens Term With Oral Arguments on Open Records Law

    Wisconsin Supreme Court Opens Term With Oral 
Arguments on Open Records Law Aug. 30, 2012 – Whether a municipality must provide a newspaper with unredacted legal bills under the state’s Open Records Law is the first question of the term for the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which will hear oral arguments Sept. 5 in Juneau County Star Times v. Juneau County.

    The Juneau County case is one of eight cases scheduled for oral argument next week by the state supreme court, which delivered 150 decisions in the previous 2011-12 term. The following is a brief summary of several high-profile cases on the court’s docket for oral argument next week.

    Juneau County Star-Times v. Juneau County, 10AP2313

    This open records case examines whether copies of certain legal bills requested of Juneau County and its clerk by the Juneau County Star-Times newspaper are subject to disclosure under the Wisconsin Open Records Law.

    Under the county’s insurance policy, an insurance company retained a law firm to represent the Juneau County sheriff in a disciplinary matter against a deputy sheriff. The law firm also represented the county to defend lawsuits commenced against the county and the sheriff by the deputy sheriff. The law firm sent the legal bills to the insurance company, not the county.

    A reporter for the Juneau County Star-Times requested the law firm’s legal bills under Wisconsin’s Open Records Law. The law firm, on behalf of the county, sent the newspaper redacted versions of the legal bills. The Star-Times sued for disclosure of unredacted versions.

    The circuit court ruled for the county.

    The court of appeals reversed in favor of the newspaper. The county now appeals to the supreme court, arguing that the appeals court decision improperly extends the Open Records Law beyond records produced or collected under a contract with a municipality.

    The Star-Times contends that records produced or collected under a contract entered into by an authority subject to the Open Records Law must be made available for inspection and copying to the same extent as if the record were maintained by the authority.

    Rock-Koshkonong Lake Dist. v. DNR, 2008AP1523

    This case involves a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) order rejecting a petition to raise the water levels of Lake Koshkonong, a lake southwest of Fort Atkinson. The Supreme Court examines the scope and authority of the DNR to protect property and public rights in navigable waters under Wis. Stat. § 31.02(1) and Wis. Admin. Code § NR 103.

    The Rock-Koshkonong Lake District petitioned to allow increased water levels and elimination of a “winter drawdown.” A majority of residential and business riparian owners supported the petition. The petition was denied, and affirmed by both the circuit and appeals courts.

    An administrative law judge found that Lake Koshkonong is an impaired water body under the federal Clean Water Act, and increased water levels would affect wetlands and cause increased sedimentation contrary to the Clean Water Act’s goal of improving impaired bodies of water.

    The Lake District asks the supreme court to decide whether the DNR improperly ignored economic impacts, and whether the DNR exceeded its authority, among other arguments.

    Bostco v. Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, 2007AP221/1440

    This case involves allegations of negligent maintenance and operation of the Deep Tunnel, a massive underground sewage and storm water tunnel operated by the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District. At the request of both parties, the Supreme Court reviews issues related to, among other things, claims for damages and relief under Wis. Stat. § 893.80.

    Bostco LLC and Parisian, Inc., owners of a Boston Store in downtown Milwaukee, sued the District for damage to foundational wood pilings under its property and near the Deep Tunnel. In circuit court, Bostco won a $6.3 million damages award based on negligence. The jury rejected Bostco’s nuisance claim despite finding $2.1 million in past damages.

    However, a circuit court judge granted the District’s post-verdict motion and reduced the damages award to $100,000, noting a statute that caps damages for tort claims against municipalities. Another circuit court judge ordered the District to install concrete liners in a portion of the Deep Tunnel to prevent future damage, at an estimated cost of $10 million. The supreme court will hear arguments relating to these and other issues.

    Johnson v. Masters, 2011AP1240

    This certification, arising from a divorce judgment entered more than 20 years ago, examines Wis. Stat. § 893.40, the “statute of repose.” More specifically, the appeals court has asks: When a wife seeks to obtain a pension award by submitting a qualified domestic relations order (QDRO) as required by the divorce judgment, and the submission is approximately one year after the former husband retires, but more than twenty years after the divorce judgment, is this an “action” which is barred by the statute of repose, Wis. Stat. § 893.40?

    State v. Brereton, 2010AP1366-CR  

    This case examines whether a defendant’s constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures was violated when police seized his vehicle and covertly installed a sophisticated real-time GPS tracking device.

    • Summaries derived from full summaries released by the Wisconsin Supreme Court.




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