Media to argue for unsealing additional court documents relating to Wisconsin campaign finance probe

Press Release | September 8, 2014

(New: Listen to the oral arguments via the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals website.)

On Tuesday, Sept. 9, news media lawyers are slated to argue for disclosure of court documents concerning a secret investigation into alleged illegal coordination between conservative political organizations and the campaign of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

“The parties asking this court to keep hundreds of pages of judicial records under seal have failed to rebut the strong presumption of openness and public access that this court has repeatedly held attaches to judicial records,” their reply brief argued. “Rather than demonstrating the kind of ‘compelling’ and ‘overriding’ interests required to defeat the First Amendment presumption of access… they rely on the wrong legal standards and offer only the vaguest of unsubstantiated and speculative reasons for shielding key swaths of the record from public view.

“This court should reject these baseless arguments.”

The media and transparency groups are asking the U.S. Court of Appeals (7th Cir.) in Chicago to unseal the remaining documents filed in a lawsuit brought by the Wisconsin Club for Growth and its director, Eric O’Keefe, against Milwaukee government officials to halt the secret “John Doe” investigation into possible misconduct by Walker’s campaign. The documents have been kept under seal by the district court – a decision that was itself based on legal arguments made to the district under seal by two anonymous intervening parties. The media and transparency groups’ appeal of the district court’s decision has already resulted in the release of many of the case records that had previously been kept under seal.

Representing the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, American Society of News Editors, Wisconsin Broadcasters Association, Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council and the Wisconsin Newspaper Association will be Theodore J. Boutrous, Jr. of Gibson Dunn and Crutcher LLP, Los Angeles. Supporting Boutrous during the argument will be Katie Townsend, Reporters Committee Litigation Director, who recently joined the organization from Gibson Dunn.

“The constitutional and common law presumption that judicial proceedings and court records will be open to the public is especially strong in cases like this one that concern alleged misconduct by government officials,” argued the coalition’s brief.

“The notion that court records in a civil lawsuit may be hidden from the public based on secret legal arguments made by anonymous individuals violates the constitutional and common law rights of the public and the press to observe the courts,” the appellate brief stated.

Arguments are scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 9, at 2:30 p.m., in the main courtroom at the Everett McKinley Dirksen United States Courthouse in Chicago, Illinois.

About the Reporters Committee

Founded in 1970, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press offers free legal support to thousands of working journalists and media lawyers each year. It is a leader in the fight against persistent efforts by government officials to impede the release of public information, whether by withholding documents or threatening reporters with jail. In addition to its 24/7 Legal Defense Hotline, the Reporters Committee conducts cutting-edge legal research, publishes handbooks and guides on media law issues, files frequent friend-of-the-court legal briefs and offers challenging fellowships and internships for young lawyers and journalists. For more information, go to www.rcfp.org, or follow us on Twitter @rcfp.