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Local Governments and School Districts Blog

Court Says Electronic Copies Must Be Released

Authored by Ruder Ware Attorneys
Posted on February 8, 2018
Filed under Local Governments and School Districts

A recent decision from a Dane County trial court has opened the door for new guidance on providing electronic copies of public records to local news media.  In a recent decision, a Dane County judge held that a state lawmaker was in violation of the Wisconsin Public Records Law when he refused to provide electronic copies of e-mails that had been requested by the local news media. 

The state representative responded to an open records request by a journalist and gave access to paper copies of various correspondence the representative received from the public on water policy issues.  The legislator said that the reporter could come to his office to review almost 1,500 printed pages of e-mails and take copies of the items the reporter wanted after paying a per page charge for the copies.  The news reporter had asked that the various communications be provided in electronic format in order to allow the news reporter to “manipulate” the information through searching and other activities. 

The news reporter clearly communicated that he wanted the information in electronic format.  The trial court held that the news reporter was entitled to receive electronic copies of the documents requested because the legislator held the documents in an electronic format.  The trial court felt that the legislator was trying to avoid the requirements of the state law by making the paper copies available for inspection and copying instead of producing the electronic version of the e-mails.

The case is under consideration for appeal.  It offers one of the first court rulings dealing with electronic copies of public records.