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Reporters Committee urges Wisconsin high court to release public employee names

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The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court to release names of public employees…

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court to release names of public employees under the Wisconsin Open Records Law. The Reporters Committee filed a brief Nov. 28 on behalf of itself and seven other leading media organizations in in support of a lawsuit brought by the the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and the Lakeland Times.

The Journal Sentinel sought the names of employees who had lost the privilege of driving state-owned vehicles because of a poor driving record while the Times wanted the names of Department of Natural Resources employees. Both requests were denied, because of a collective bargaining agreement between the union-represented employees and their employer, the state of Wisconsin. Prior to the collective bargaining agreement, the information had been public.

“Denying access to this information and attempting to amend the open records statute through the” collective bargaining agreement “runs afoul of the U.S. Constitution. The First Amendment prevents differential, discriminatory treatment toward the press. Moreover, under the Wisconsin Open Records Law the presumption of disclosure requires the release of the names of public employees as sought by the Journal Sentinel and the Times,” the brief argued.

"I’m surprised that state officials in Wisconsin think they can legally discriminate between the press and ordinary citizens," said Reporters Committee Executive Director Lucy Dalglish. This collective bargaining agreement doesn’t come even close to passing public muster."

The Reporters Committee’s brief can be accessed at www.rcfp.org/news/documents/20081201-amicusbrie.pdf.