Wisconsin Lawmaker Sued Over Pricey Records Request

MADISON, Wis. (CN) – A conservative legal group in Wisconsin brought a lawsuit against a Democratic state representative, claiming he violated the state’s open-records law by refusing to provide electronic records and insisting on printing them to charge more than $3,000 for one batch of emails.

Collin Roth, research fellow for the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, or WILL, sued Representative Jonathan Brostoff of Milwaukee in Dane County Circuit Court on Thursday, accusing Brostoff of charging unnecessary fees for records requests.

Represented by WILL attorney Thomas Kamenick, Roth claims he filed a request with Brostoff for emails about occupational licensing reform, in electronic format, but Brostoff printed off thousands of pages and sent Roth an invoice for $3,239.76.

The conservative legal foundation alleges violations of the Wisconsin Open Records law.

According to the seven-page lawsuit, Roth filed his request for Brostoff’s emails in July 2017. He claims he got a response in December when an employee in Brostoff’s office said they completed the request and the cost estimate was comprised of $2,962.95 for copies and $271.81 for time spent searching for emails where “license” is a root wood.

WILL says it wrote to Brostoff arguing state law requires custodians to provide electronic records in their original format when requested and prohibits charging for paper copies of electronic files.

“The law explicitly defines records to include electronic files, and a printout of the text of an email doesn’t reproduce everything in the actual electronic file. Just like a transcript captures only one facet of a video recording, a printout is no substitute for an original email file,” the group said in a press release.

The legal group cited a similar case in which a Dane County judge ruled earlier this year that State Representative Scott Krug, R-Nekoosa, was required to provide electronic records when requested.

But WILL claims Brostoff ignored that argument.

“On February 5, 2018, Mr. Roth and his counsel received an email from Representative Brostoff, stating, ‘As directed by the chief clerk, I am again informing you that the open records request you submitted has been printed and is ready for you to pick up,’” the lawsuit states. “The email contained the same cost estimates provided previously and was unresponsive to counsel’s letter dated February 2, 2018, that stated the records must be provided in electronic format and without any charges for printing.”

Roth’s attorney, Kamenick, said he see this “all too frequently.”

“Instead of doing things the easy way, custodians intentionally make the process difficult and expensive, discouraging people from even making records requests,” Kamenick said in a statement. “We shouldn’t put up with that.”

WILL seeks a judgment that Brostoff violated the state’s open-records law and an order requiring him to provide the records in electronic format. It also seeks punitive damages and attorney’s fees.

Brostoff’s office did not immediately respond Friday to an email request for comment.

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