Judge unseals most records in Racine alderwoman’s case
MILWAUKEE — A judge has decided to unseal most of the documents in a lawsuit challenging the city of Racine’s decision to withhold an alderwoman’s records.
Sandra Weidner sued in 2017 to force the city to release emails she sent to constituents. She said the Common Council attended a closed meeting in August of that year with City Attorney Scott Letteney. He displayed dozens of slides of emails that Weidner and two other council members had sent to constituents that Letteney felt contained confidential information.
Weidner said her emails contained publicly available information such as ordinances and resolutions that she supplied directly to constituents at their request. But Letteney said he was going to send the emails to the city’s Ethics Board. Fearing the slides would be used to hurt her mayoral campaign, she asked for copies but was denied. Letteney contended that any communications from his office are confidential under attorney-client privilege, Weidner said.
Racine County Circuit Judge Eugene Gasiorkiewcz took the unusual step of sealing the case in February 2018 and later agreed with the city that the emails were secret because they were covered under attorney-client privilege.
Weidner said the judge found her in contempt of court during a secret hearing in October for speaking to news outlets about the case. She said he warned her that he would fine her $1,000 a day for every day she talks about the case going forward.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Thursday that lawyers for the newspaper, USA Today Network-Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Newspaper Association, the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association and the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council joined Weidner’s case. At a closed hearing with all parties in the case on Dec. 5, the judge agreed to unseal most of the case file but allowed the city to redact portions of some documents.
Bill Lueders, president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, told the Journal Sentinel that there was never any reason to seal any of the file.
“This is Wisconsin, not some banana republic,” Lueders said. “This whole case is outrageous.”
Weidner has appealed Gasiorkiewcz’s decision to allow the city to withhold the emails to a state appellate court.