Appeals court orders release of settlement between school board and ex-employee
WISCONSIN — A state appellate court in Milwaukee in late July affirmed a lower court decision ordering a school board to release to the public the terms of a settlement between the school board and a former employee of the school district.
The appeal stemmed from a 1991 lawsuit filed against the Shorewood school board by a former school district superintendent alleging breach of contract and defamation. The parties reached a settlement in August 1992.
Journal/Sentinel Inc. which publishes Milwaukee’s two major daily newspapers, The Milwaukee Journal and the Milwaukee Sentinel sought access to the “memorandum of understanding” between the parties.
The school board refused, arguing that the agreement was covered by a confidentiality clause and that the agreement was not a public record because it was merely an agreement between the parties’ attorneys.
Two months later, the newspapers sued the school board in Milwaukee Circuit Court. The Trial granted the newspapers request in November 1993. The school board appealed, in January 1994, to the appellate court in Milwaukee.
The appellate court affirmed the lower court’s decision finding that the agreement was covered by the open records law. The court rejected the school boards argument that the confidentiality agreement was necessary to settle the case. “public scrutiny of most if not all settlements agreements involving government would be barred. . . . This would effectively end-run the openness mandated by Wisconsin’s public records law and the presumption of access.”
The court also said that the attorneys were custodians of the memorandum, which reflected an agreement not between themselves, but the parties.
(Journal/Sentinel Inc. v. School Board of the School District of Shorewood; Media Counsel: Dennis Fisher, Milwaukee)