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  • WisBar News
    October 04, 2016

    Public Records Cases Among Wisconsin Supreme Court’s Docket for 2016-17

    Joe Forward

    Supreme Court chamber in Wisconsin State Capitol

    Oct. 4, 2016 – The Wisconsin Supreme Court recently released a table of 36 pending cases to be decided in the 2016-17 term. More cases will likely be added. A few of the high-profile cases involve open records and public law enforcement officials.

    For instance, this week the court will hear oral argument in Democratic Party of Wisconsin v. Wisconsin Department of Justice, a case that began when Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel was the District Attorney for Waukesha County.

    Before the 2014 elections, the Democratic Party of Wisconsin made an open records request for training videos featuring Schimel. The Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ) denied the request, citing victim privacy and litigation strategy concerns.

    The training videos covered strategies for interacting with sensitive crime victims and prosecuting internet sexual predator cases.

    The Democratic Party of Wisconsin sought a writ of mandamus to compel release. The circuit court granted the request but stayed release pending appeal. The court of appeals affirmed. The supreme court will now examine the issues presented.

    DOJ officials, including Schimel, are also the named defendants in a case, Teague v. Schimel, challenging the DOJ’s alias name policy on public criminal history reports.

    Dennis Teague and others sued DOJ officials, claiming they violate constitutional and statutory provisions each time they process and release a criminal history report tied to another person who has used their name as a criminal alias.

    Teague has received a “letter of innocence” from DOJ, confirming he had no criminal history as of 2009. He can present the letter to anyone who has requested a criminal history report on his name. But Teague said that’s not enough to protect him.

    He sued to stop DOJ from issuing criminal history reports that include his name as an alias, for requests about the other man who uses the alias, without reference to the innocence letter. His complaint was based on Wisconsin’s public records law, Wis. Stat.19.70, which allows people to challenge public disclosures deemed inaccurate.

    An appeals court ruled that DOJ does not need to include innocence letters with requested criminal history reports generated on alias names.

    Finally, in Voces de la Frontera Inc. v. Clarke, an immigrant rights group submitted an open records request to the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office in 2015, seeking I-247 forms received within a three-month period. I-247 forms request that local law enforcement agencies hold people brought into custody, for up to 48 hours, who are subject to deportation. Sheriff David Clarke ultimately produced copies of the requested forms, but the office’s records custodian had redacted five fields, including the nationality and immigration status of the deportation subjects, the subject’s ID number, and event and file numbers.

    After an objection, the sheriff’s office released revised copies that disclosed the nationalities of the deportation subjects, but the other fields remained redacted. Voces had argued that disclosure was necessary to ensure the sheriff’s office was not engaged in the unlawful arrest or detention of persons turned over for deportation.

    A state appeals court ruled for Voces, rejecting the claim that state open records law exempts federal immigration documents. Clarke appealed.

    The supreme court is expected to decide whether Wisconsin’s open records law requires record custodians to produce, upon request, federal immigration hold documents received from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

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