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Media wait for release of firefighters' names

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    NMU         WISCONSIN         Freedom of Information         Nov 21, 2000    

Media wait for release of firefighters’ names

  • As a firefighters’ union fights a judicial order to release the names of firefighters accused of drug use, the press awaits a disciplinary hearing to obtain the names.

On Nov. 17, a firefighters’ union appealed a Wisconsin trial judge’s order to release the names of eight firefighters accused of drug use, some of which was discovered after a police raid on a Madison bar.

On Nov. 13, Judge Sarah O’Brien ruled from the bench that the police records are open because the public’s interest in the release of the names exceeds the firefighters’ interest in preventing the disclosure. Three news organizations — the Wisconsin State Journal, The Capital Times and WKOW-TV — asked Fire Chief Debra Amesqua for access to the names. The chief agreed to release the names by Nov. 10, but a lawsuit filed by the firefighters’ union barred her from doing so.

In April, Madison police released a report that said they were investigating 12 firefighters suspected of drug use. Some of the allegations stemmed from a police raid on Jocko’s Rocketship bar in downtown Madison. Police deleted the names of the firefighters prior to releasing the report.

After the judge’s ruling, the union filed a motion to stay her release order. The judge denied the stay because the union had not proven a reasonable likelihood of success on appeal. However, the judge gave the union until Nov. 17 to request a hearing before the appeals court.

Despite the wrangling in court over the release of these names, the disclosure of at least some of the names may be inevitable under the Wisconsin public records law if disciplinary charges against the firefighters are brought before the police and fire commission.

(International Association of Firefighters Local 311 v. City of Madison; Media Counsel: Robert Dreps; Madison) CC

© 2000 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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