Allegations about Vilas County District Attorney Albert Moustakis were investigated by the State Department of Justice and found to be unsubstantiated.
The Lakeland Times, a regional newspaper, filed a request with DOJ for records related to the investigation. and other documents about complaints against Moustakis and correspondence between Moustakis and DOJ.
DOJ, as a courtesy, notified Moustakis that it was going to release the records to the Lakeland Times. Moustakis went to court to block the release. He lost, but appealed. He lost in the State Court of Appeals, too. The case will be argued next week before the State Supreme Court.
The stakes are high. At issue is whether many elected state officials have a right to seek judicial pre-release review of requested records pertaining to them, as most non-elected employees do. The circuit court and a District 3 Court of Appeals panel said no, but Moustakis is taking his case to the State Supreme Court. Oral arguments are scheduled for Feb. 4.
Supreme Court justices have been slow to act on open records requests they themselves have received, and Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman even said that the court has not determined whether the open records law applies to it.
So let's say the State Supreme Court says that Moustakis has the right to judicial review, a move that could prevent the public from seeing important documents about their state elected officials.
.And then let's say that the Supreme Court applies that ruling to itself, which is not an unreasonable conjecture.
If a justice later asks for a judicial review of an open records request he or she has received, just who exactly will be in a position to conduct it? Other Supreme Court justices? Court efforts to police itself haven't worked out so well in the recent past, as the deadlocked and abandoned Gableman ethics case showed.
Be worried, open records advocates. Be very worried.
Gretchen Schuldt is executive director of the Wisconsin Justice Initiative.
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