RACINE — The City of Racine Attorney’s Office has denied The Journal Times’ request for invoices from the outside counsel that represented the city in its contempt of court case against Alderman Sandy Weidner.
City Attorney Scott Letteney’s office stated the invoices were also under seal, along with the case, meaning the amount the city is spending on the case is not available to the public.
In early October, Weidner was charged with contempt of court after speaking with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Associated Press about an open records case that was sealed by Racine County Circuit Court Judge Eugene Gasiorkiewicz.
On Nov. 1, The Journal Times submitted a request for invoices from Meissner, Tierney, Fischer & Nichols SC for services pertaining to Weidner’s contempt of court case. Wisconsin Statute 19.36(3) which pertains to contractors’ records states:
“Each authority shall make available for inspection and copying under s. 19.35 (1) any record produced or collected under a contract entered into by the authority with a person other than an authority to the same extent as if the record were maintained by the authority.”
The Journal Times received the following response Nov. 6 from the City Attorney’s office:
“The records you requested were submitted to the Court by the City in support of its request for attorney’s fees incurred in relation to the motion for contempt and were filed under seal pursuant to the Court’s seal orders. As such, the City is not at liberty to provide these records to you, given the seal orders in this case. Thus, your request for these records is denied.
Bill Lueders, president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council said he was, “shocked and appalled.”
“I think this law firm is taking City of Racine taxpayers for a ride. It’s no wonder they want to cover up how much they are making for their role in this outrageous affair,” Lueders said. “The public is entitled to know how much of its money is being wasted on outside lawyers.”
The Freedom of Information Council along with the Wisconsin Newspaper Association, Wisconsin Broadcasters Association, the USA Today Network-Wisconsin and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which is distributed through USA Today Network-Wisconsin, filed a motion last week requesting that the legal documents from the Weidner public records case be unsealed. The Journal Times is a member of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association.
On Tuesday, Lueders received a sealed 15-page brief submitted by Meissner, Tierney, Fischer & Nichols SC arguing the media organizations’ intervention had no merit.
“In my opinion, the response of the law firm to the perfectly reasonable request of my group and others suggests they’re taking the City of Racine for a ride by bringing up unnecessary expenditures and enriching themselves,” Lueders said. “I’m really not surprised they want to hide how much of the taxpayers’ money is being spent.”