Wisconsin Supreme Court Opens Term With Oral Arguments on Open Records
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
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
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
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. §
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
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,
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,
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