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Journalists do not have to testify in open-records lawsuit

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  1. Protecting Sources and Materials

    NMU         WISCONSIN         Confidentiality/Privilege         Mar 6, 2002    

Journalists do not have to testify in open-records lawsuit

  • Subpoenas against three reporters in Wisconsin, who had sued when legislative clerks refused to release the names of legislators and state employees who are under investigation, were quashed by a judge.

Statehouse reporters for three Wisconsin newspapers do not have to testify about why they want access to legislative records, a judge ruled on Feb. 18.

The reporters — David Callender of The Capital Times, Phil Brinkman of the Wisconsin State Journal and Dennis Chaptman of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel — sued when state legislative clerks would not release the names of legislators and state employees who are part of an investigation into illegal on-the-job political campaigning. Taxpayers are paying the legal expenses of those who are part of the investigation.

In response to the reporters’ requests, Senate Chief Clerk Donald Schneider and Assembly Chief Clerk John Scocos released only redacted copies of the legal bills, showing the amount paid but blacking out the names, said Robert Dreps, the reporters’ attorney.

The reporters sued to get the names. The clerks subpoenaed the reporters to testify at a deposition and to produce documents indicating what use the reporters would make of the names.

One day before the deposition was to take place, Dane County Circuit Judge Sarah O’Brien ruled that the reporters did not have to comply with the subpoena.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that O’Brien said it was obvious what the journalists would do with the names: “They will be published.”

In January, the attorney for Scocos tried to get the judge to forbid the newspapers from writing editorials about the case. The attorney later withdrew the request, and the state legislature voted not to pay for any legal fees the clerk incurred for the gag-order request, Dreps said.

Attorneys will submit briefs by March 22 on the issue of whether Wisconsin’s open records law requires releasing the names of legislators and legislative employees whose legal fees are paid by taxpayers.

(Capital Times Co. v. Schneider; Media counsel: Brady C. Williamson and Robert J. Dreps, LaFollette Godfrey & Kahn, Madison, Wis.) MD

© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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