Court told to review personnel files before disclosure
WISCONSIN–Milwaukee public school employees who were fired or quit after a district-wide background check revealed they had criminal records may have their personnel files reviewed by a trial court to determine if release would be appropriate, the state appeals court in Milwaukee unanimously ruled in mid-May.
The lower court, relying on a 1996 state Supreme Court case, had held that it could not conduct an independent review of an agency decision to release records, except in cases where the district attorney was the records custodian.
But the appeals court reversed, holding that individuals may have a judge independently review a decision to disclose documents, regardless of what agency possesses the records.
“The location of the records should not be the decisive factor in whether the open records law permits judicial review prior to disclosure,” the court wrote.
The appeals court sent the case back, instructing the trial court to balance the public interest in release against the employees’ privacy concerns.
In January 1997, Milwaukee Public Schools notified several employees that it was releasing their personnel files to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, pursuant to the newspaper’s Open Records Law request. The employees filed suit seeking judicial review of the decision to release the records. The trial court dismissed the case and the employees appealed. (Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association v. Milwaukee Board of School Directors; Media Counsel: David Lucey, Milwaukee)