Wisconsin Supremes Take Dispute Over Public Records Status of Legal Bills

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether a law firm must disclose redacted portions of legal bills to a Juneau County newspaper under the state’s open records laws. The case is one of four recently accepted for review during the current term.

A lawyer with the Crivello Carlson law firm served as counsel to Juneau County’s sheriff in connection with a disciplinary matter. Juneau County retained the lawyer under its insurance contract, which covered the county’s defense in this type of disciplinary proceeding.

Crivello Carlsen sent its legal bills to the county’s insurer, Wisconsin County Mutual Insurance Corp. (WCMIC). Eventually, a reporter for the Juneau County Star-Times made a public records request for the legal bills.

The law firm provided redacted versions of the bills to the newspaper. The newspaper then sued the county, seeking the redacted portions of the legal bills. The circuit court granted summary judgment to the county, but an appeals court reversed.

In Juneau County Star-Times v. Juneau County, 2010AP2313, the supreme court is expected to decide whether the law firm must disclose the redacted portions of the legal bills submitted to the insurance company for legal services rendered to the county.