Walker E-Mail Hearing

A soap opera within a soap opera in Wisconsin….just keeps getting better. This was a fabulous FOI request!

About halfway through a three-hour hearing Tuesday afternoon on the lawsuitbrought by Isthmus and the Wisconsin Associated Press over emails received by the office of Gov. Scott Walker regarding his “budget repair bill,” Dane County Judge Patrick Fiedler made it clear he understands what is at issue – perhaps what is at stake – as much as anyone. (Full disclosure: I am a named plaintiff in this lawsuit.)

“It’s obvious to me why the media wants this before the outcome of the budget repair bill is known,” said Fiedler during a scheduling conference that turned into a substantive discussion of the case’s unresolved issues. The former secretary of the state Department of Corrections noted that in his own dealings with the media, he’s noticed that “typically they want the information sooner rather than later, because the root word of ‘news’ is ‘new.’”

Unfortunately, it seemed at times during this hearing that the release of these emails – which Walker has characterized as being mostly positive – might happen later rather than sooner. This even though there was no dispute that they are public records, or that the media requesters and governor’s office were not very far apart in terms of reaching an agreement that could provide access.

At his press conference on Feb. 17, Walker said his office had received more than 8,000 emails in the week since he unveiled his proposal to extract benefit concessions and rein in collective bargaining rights from most public employees. He said the “the majority are telling us to stay firm, stay strong, to stand with the taxpayers.” At another press conference the following day, Feb. 18, he said the number of emails had risen to more than 19,000. This statement was made within an hour of Isthmus hand-delivering a records request; the Associated Press made its own request earlier that day.

The governor’s office did not respond to either request until about two hours after the lawsuit was filed last Friday, March 4, although both the AP andIsthmus sent follow-up e-mails asking for updates as to the status of their requests. At Tuesday’s hearing, this failure to respond was chalked up to “a clerical oversight”; Judge Fiedler, while not doubting this, said it seemed obvious to him that the sending of these responses was triggered by the filing of the suit.

 

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