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Public records: court says electronic copies’ requests are valid

Posted at 3 p.m. on June 6, 2019

The Brillion News

MADISON – The Wisconsin Court of Appeals ruled on Wednesday, June 6, that when a public record request specifically asks for documents in electronic format, the record custodian must provide those records in electronic format.

Some officials around the state – particularly in the state legislature – have made it a practice to waste time and taxpayer resources by printing out emails and other records. The landmark decision stops that practice.

On June 21, 2016, Bill Lueders, President of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council and Editor of The Progressive magazine, filed a record request for certain emails from Representative Scott Krug, R-Nekoosa, later specifying that his request was for electronic copies. Instead, Krug provided paper copies.

Lueders sued, and the Dane County Circuit Court concluded that Krug violated the Open Records Law.

Krug appealed, and on appeal, the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) filed an amicus brief, joined by the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, the John K. MacIver Institute for Public Policy, the Badger Institute, and Americans for Prosperity-Wisconsin.

The brief argued that the plain text of the records law requires the provision of electronic copies upon request. The brief offered examples of how custodians had frustrated requests by unnecessarily printing massive quantities of copies and demanding payment for each page.

The Court of Appeals, District II (Judges Mark Gundrum, Paul Reilly, and Justice-elect Brian Hagedorn) affirmed the lower court, establishing a precedent that applies to public records custodians statewide. The court concluded that the original electronic email contains significant amounts of metadata that is lost when printed out. Because a printout is missing important information from the original record, it is not a “copy” of the record and does not satisfy a request for an electronic record.


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