Wisconsin public officials can’t charge exorbitant fees for hard copies of records that can be easily and cheaply produced in more user-friendly electronic form, a state appeals court ruled Wednesday.

“The ruling rejects the excuses conjured up by the custodians in this case to deny access to records in electronic form and clearly establishes that electronic records contain additional information beyond what is provided with printed paper copies,” reads a statement from Bill Lueders, president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council and editor of The Progressive.

The decision from the 2nd District Court of Appeals hands Lueders a victory in a lawsuit he filed in 2016 against state Rep. Scott Krug, R-Nekoosa, who responded to an open records request for constituent contacts by producing 1,500 paper copies of emails and charging a per-page fee.

In July of 2016, Lueders sought records of constituent contacts from Krug on state water policies. Krug’s office made paper copies of relevant emails for Lueders’ inspection and charged him a fee for copies he had requested.

Then Lueders asked for electronic copies of the emails, which allow for keyword searches and contain metadata, information that includes when a document was created and who created it.

A Dane County Circuit Court judge sided with Lueders, and the appeals court upheld that ruling Tuesday.

“Krug’s appeal falters right out of the gate due to his erroneous reading” of state law, the court in the decision written by Judge Mark Gundrum. Appellate Judges Paul Reilly and Brian Hagedorn, who will join the state Supreme Court in August, joined in the decision.

“Because Lueders specifically requested copies of the ‘records in electronic form’ — thereby indicating a clear desire to receive not just the content of an email that would be visible on a printout but the associated metadata as well — he is entitled to receive a copy of the e-mails in electronic form,” says the decision.

Last year in a similar open records case, state Rep. Jonathan Brostoff, D-Milwaukee, was sued by the conservative law firm Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty after Brostoff told the group they’d have to pay $3,240 for printed copies of thousands of Brostoff’s emails, despite the group’s request for electronic copes.

In the settlement, Brostoff agreed to provide the electronic records and taxpayers paid $1,822 to cover WILL’s legal expenses.

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Steven Elbow joined The Capital Times in 1999 and has covered law enforcement in addition to city, county and state government. He has also worked for the Portage Daily Register and has written for the Isthmus weekly newspaper in Madison.