A conservative law firm sued a Democratic state lawmaker for allegedly violating the Wisconsin open records law after charging more than $3,000 for requested records, the latest front in the ongoing battle over whether emails must be provided electronically or on paper.
The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty filed the lawsuit Thursday in Dane County Circuit Court against Rep. Jonathan Brostoff, of Milwaukee. It comes after a Dane County judge ruled in a similar case last month that Republican Rep. Scott Krug needed to provide electronic records when requested.
Conservative talk radio host Mark Belling has also been trying to get records provided electronically from Republican Rep. Michael Schraa, after he responded to an open records request by making the emails available on paper in Madison, rather than emailing them.
“Citizens ought to be able to receive electronic records in electronic form, especially since this is the easiest and most useful way to provide them,” Bill Lueders, president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, said Friday. He brought the successful lawsuit against Krug and said WILL should win its fight against Brostoff.
“The policy adopted by the Assembly and Senate clerks to print out reams of paper and seek to charge exorbitant fees is plainly intended to discourage requesters, contrary to the letter and spirit of the Open Records Law,” Lueders said in an email. “I hope and expect that the courts will side with WILL in this lawsuit.”
Brostoff said that his aide had followed the advice of Assembly Chief Clerk Patrick Fuller in how to respond to the records request. He said the lawsuit was more about a conservative group attacking him over his opposition to occupational licensing changes, rather than upholding the open records law.
“They’re trying to bully me and that’s what’s happening,” he said.
According to the lawsuit, a WILL researcher requested emails in July related to occupational licensing reform, an issue the group advocates for and that Brostoff opposes. The requester asked that the emails be provided electronically.
An aide to Brostoff responded saying Fuller, the chief clerk of the Assembly, determined the law allows for the records to be provided in paper copy and it would cost $3,239 for printing and search time.
WILL informed Brostoff’s office of the Jan. 22 court ruling, in the case brought by Lueders against Krug, where the judge ruled the state needed to provide electronic files when requested.
“This is not about ideological differences,” said WILL president Rick Esenberg. “Unfortunately, both Republicans and Democrats occasionally fail to meet their obligations under our open records and open meeting laws.”
Belling, the talk radio host, said he’s gotten no response to his repeated complaints that he should have gotten records from Schraa electronically.
“The state assembly, under its current leadership in BOTH parties, has shown no interest in being responsive to its constituents,” Belling said in an email Friday.