The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) is suing state Rep. Jonathan Brostoff (D-Milwaukee) over his failure to comply with an open records request. Despite a request by WILL Research Fellow Collin Roth for the records in their original electronic format, Brostoff’s office printed out the requested emails and attempted to charge WILL $3,239.76.
“This is not about ideological differences,” said WILL President Rick Esenberg in a statement Friday. “Unfortunately, both Republicans and Democrats occasionally fail to meet their obligations under our open records and open meetings laws. We’ve worked with advocates across the political spectrum to fix that. This is just the latest fight.”
On July 10, 2017, Roth made a record request to Brostoff for emails relating to occupational licensing reform in their electronic format. Brostoff printed the emails instead, thousands of pages, and attempted to charge WILL for the cost. Roth is asking the court to order Brostoff to turn over the electronic files, reduce his fees and to assess attorney fees, court costs, and punitive damages against the representative.
Brostoff told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel he was acting within the law in making the open records request as inconvenient as possible for the conservative group, saying he followed the advice of Assembly Chief Clerk Patrick Fuller.
“I’ve complied with whatever Fuller told us to do,” Brostoff told the newspaper. “We follow the letter of the law. This is just a bullying tactic because they’re mad at me (over licensing issues).”
However, on January 22, 2018, a Dane County Circuit Court judge ruled that State Rep. Scott Krug (R-Nekoosa) needed to provide electronic files when requested in a similar case. When Brostoff was told of the case, he still refused to comply.
Bill Lueders, president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, brought the lawsuit against Krug and told the Associated Press that WILL should prevail in the dispute with Brostoff.
“Citizens ought to be able to receive electronic records in electronic form, especially since this is the easiest and most useful way to provide them,” said Lueders.
“The policy adopted by the Assembly and Senate clerks to print out reams of paper and seek to charge exorbitant fees is plainly intended to discourage requesters, contrary to the letter and spirit of the Open Records Law,” Lueders said in an email. “I hope and expect that the courts will side with WILL in this lawsuit.”