Boots & Sabers

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1546, 15 Nov 19

Madison School District Sued for Violating Open Records Law

The taxpayers are going to be on the hook for this obvious violation of the law.

Today, the Wisconsin Transparency Project, on behalf of an anonymous Madison resident using the pseudonym John Doe, sued the Madison Metropolitan School District in Dane County Circuit Court. The suit alleges that the District is unlawfully insisting that Doe identify themselves before it will turn over records.

Doe has filed a number of open record requests over the last four months with the District using the online public records database and portal MuckRock allows its users to send anonymous requests through its website and use the website to receive, track, and share the records provided. Doe’s requests ran the gamut from routine weekly board updates to grant applications and annual School Improvement Plans. The district refused every request because of Doe’s unwillingness to be identified.

State law is perfectly clear that requesters may remain anonymous: “no request . . . may be refused because the person making the request is unwilling to be identified or to state the purpose of the request.” Wis. Stat. § 19.35(1)(i). The District claims Doe must identify themselves so it can decide whether releasing the records would pose a “safety concern,” but the law does not allow that excuse.

Government bodies are becoming increasingly opaque and refusing to comply with the law. Unfortunately, Wisconsin’s District Attorneys are failing to enforce the law. It would only take a few bureaucrats or elected officials being prosecuted and those records would be flying out the door.


1546, 15 November 2019


  1. dad29

    There will NEVER be a prosecution of Madistan’s Schools so long as Ozanne is D.A.

  2. jjf

    Well, Dad29, anyone also has the option of going to court or the AG.

  3. Kevin Scheunemann

    Typical liberal abuse of power.

  4. Mike

    They keep trying the same dodges over and over.

    Hillary tried to say there were no responsive emails because they were stored on a private server. Well established case law says it’s the records themselves subject to open records law, no matter where they are stored.

    Anonymous requests are also well established law, as their attorney should have known, if he was even consulted.


  5. jjf

    Mike, Federal rules and State law are different.

    There’s no mention of a private server in this Madison situation as far as I’ve heard.

    If you want something to do, google for the “Wisconsin Public Records Law Compliance Guide” and then search within that document for the word “safety” and then read the cases in the footnotes, and you’ll learn about the cases where the identity of the requester has come into play.

    Yes, it seems like the District’s denial is overbroad, so hopefully they’ll come around as more light is shined.

    On the other hand, situations like this will also inspire some legislator to aim to change the open records law.  Who will stand up to oppose that; who will agree that ID can be demanded?  It’s for the children!  It’s for terrorism!  What are you afraid of?  Stand up and be honest!  Can’t you imagine arguments for and against this?

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