Wisconsin AG says he must defend legislator’s immunity in open records lawsuit

From Star Tribune:  Wisconsin's open records laws apply to legislators but they can claim immunity from lawsuits seeking their documents, Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said Tuesday.

Van Hollen, a Republican, has been criticized after the state Justice Department argued in court filings last week that the Wisconsin Constitution grants Sen. Leah Vukmir immunity from a Center for Media and Democracy lawsuit seeking records from an American Legislative Exchange Conference she attended.

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Also see: Wisconsin Sen. Leah Vukmir tries to sidestep open records suit: State Sen. Leah Vukmir is trying to sidestep an open records lawsuit by claiming she can't be sued while in office — a legal argument that, if successful, would let all lawmakers ignore the open records law.

The liberal Center for Media and Democracy sued Vukmir (R-Wauwatosa) in June contending she had violated the open records law by not turning over records related to her involvement with the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC works with corporations and conservatives to write model legislation that can be introduced in state legislatures throughout the country.

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Opinion from the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council:  The Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council is shocked and saddened that a member of the state Legislature is, with the help of the state Attorney General’s Office, effectively claiming immunity from the state’s Open Records Law.

As reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, state Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Wauwatosa, is advancing a legal argument that “would let all lawmakers ignore the Open Records Law.” The senator claims she cannot be sued while the Legislature is in session and that the session extends for a legislator’s entire term.

Our state's openness laws are fundamental to its ability to function as a democracy. Members of the Legislature, which passed these laws, ought to respect that. We call upon Sen. Vulmir to reconsider her position in light of the damage it could cause to the state.

So far as we can recall, no lawmaker has ever before tried to defeat the state's open records law by employing this ruse. We are deeply disappointed in both Sen. Vukmir and the Attorney General's Office, for the position it has taken, in its Sept. 11, 2013 court filing.

The Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council is a member of NFOIC. –eds

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