Help Sandy Fight Secret Court
Wisconsin does not and should not have secret courts, especially when it comes to the litigation of open records issues. The public has a right to know when public officials seek to quash our right to know. Sandy Weidner has spent $20,000 of her own money for the right of the public to access your government records. This is a case about the will to secrecy running amok. Please consider joining the fight to help Sandy a true patriot shine light on the right to access our government! Please donate or share we will keep you informed as events unfold.
Sanda Weidner has represented Racine Wisconsin"s 6th District for nearly 20 years. Last year, she was running for mayor and being critical of the status quo.
Ald. Sandra Weidner told the Milwaukee Journal she was in the midst of running for mayor last summer when City Attorney Scott Letteney called a closed-session meeting of the Executive Committee and urged all council members to attend. She said he gave a PowerPoint presentation of roughly 30 emails, most of which were hers, characterizing them as improper sharing of confidential information with the public.
The committee then recommended, and the Common Council approved, asking the city's Ethics Boards for an advisory opinion on whether the emailing activities violated Racine's ethics ordinance.
Weidner said she and her attorney sought copies of the presentation's slides but were denied by Letteney, who said he could not disclose things presented or discussed in a closed session. So Weidner filed a petition for a court order under Wisconsin's open records law.
But at the first hearing on the case, in January, Racine County Circuit Judge Eugene Gasiorkiewicz, after meeting with lawyers in his chambers, told others there for the hearing that they had to leave because he was sealing the case. It can't be found on CCAP, the state's online court records index, and if you search by the case number, the result says only that the case is sealed.
"We're seeing more and more efforts by all three branches of government to take the public's business private," Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editor George Stanley said. "Now, a judge had decided he can seal off all information about an Open Records case, and a taxpayer-funded city attorney is seeking to punish an elected official for daring to let the public know about it.
"He wanted to publicly humiliate me. Said he’s tried everything in his power to 'monitor my behavior,' " she said. The problem, she said, is that nothing she sent to constituents, in her experience, was confidential.
"To him, anything that comes into or out of the city attorney's office is covered by the attorney-client privilege," she said, a far more expansive interpretation than the law allows.
Advocates for open government are astounded and have never heard of a public records suit being sealed, or any kind of case without some record of who the parties are and why it was under seal. ACLU News
US News and World Report L.A. Times timesunion
"Everything I know about this case seems atrocious," said Bill Lueders, president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council.
"These communications should never have been withheld. The trial court judge should never have allowed this matter to be adjudicated in secret. His decision should not have been sealed. The appellate court should not have allowed this secrecy to extend to the appeal."
"These are low-level communications from local residents about local issues, not the Pentagon Papers," Lueders said.
Racine County Circuit Judge Eugene Gasiorkiewicz.
The judge said recently he sealed the case "because of the nature of the action. It's one that shouldn't be open. I made a public policy determination."
But wasn't it an open records case? "I'm sorry, I can't tell you. It's sealed," Gasiorkiewicz said.
City of Racine seeks sanctions against alderman who spoke about secret open records case