The Wisconsin Supreme Court unanimously ruled for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in a dispute over whether a Milwuakee can charge for its employees to delete information deemed confidential from public records. Reversing a Milwaukee County judge’s ruling, the high court said Wisconsin’s 30-year-old public records law has never allowed public agencies to charge requesters for redacting information from records. The case involves a 2010 records request based on a Journal Sentinel attempt to do an audit of two weeks of incident reports for offenses such as assault, burglary, and theft.
The city argued it could charge for redacting under provisions of the law that allow fees to be charged for locating and copying records. “This case is not about a direct denial of public access to records, but the issue in the present case directly implicates the accessibility of government records,” wrote Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson. “The greater the fee imposed on a requester of a public record, the less likely the requester will be willing and able to successfully make a record request.” Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, who filed a brief on behalf of the Journal Sentinel, applauded the decision.