One Wisconsin Now Files Lawsuit Against Juneau County DA Southworth for Withholding Open Records

One Wisconsin Now Files Lawsuit Against Juneau County DA Southworth for Withholding Open Records

MADISON, Wis. — A One Wisconsin Now lawsuit, being filed in Juneau County Circuit Court Tuesday, alleges Republican Juneau County District Attorney Scott Southworth intentionally withheld political email communication sought in an open records request.

The email communication was between Southworth and a partisan political ally regarding his controversial March 2010 letter to Juneau County school districts threatening to prosecute teachers who instruct students under the state’s Healthy Youth Act for contributing to the delinquency of minors. Southworth said in the letter, sent on his DA stationary, that the Healthy Youth Act, “promotes the sexual assault of children.”

“District Attorney Scott Southworth intentionally withheld records from One Wisconsin Now in violation of the law and he did it to protect his political hide,” said Scot Ross, One Wisconsin Now. “We caught him, and we want District Attorney Southworth under oath to hold him accountable and find out how many more records he is withholding from the public. District Attorney Southworth is charged with enforcement of the open records law and he completely violated the public trust.”

One Wisconsin Now filed an open records request with Southworth for records related to the Health Youth Act (2009 WI Act 143) within days of his inflammatory March 24 letter, which Southworth sent to the five Juneau County five schools districts under his jurisdiction. One Wisconsin Now asked for correspondence from January 1, 2009 to April 1, 2010.

Southworth responded April 16, 2010 with 18 pages of emails he received. Southworth pointedly indicated he had only sent two emails on this subject, one of which was to a reporter and one was to thank an individual from Lake Mills. In his response, Southworth said, “I sent a letter to each of the (5) five school districts in Juneau County.”

According to the records Southworth released, Southworth led One Wisconsin Now to believe he had not been in email communication with political advocacy groups or others about his interpretation of the Healthy Youth Act, nor had he provided his letter electronically to any individual prior to the schools receiving it by regular mail.

The facts of One Wisconsin Now’s lawsuit:

  • On July 19, Southworth sent One Wisconsin Now an additional email sent to him from Jolene Churchill, legislative aide to Sen. Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend). Churchill, a noted anti-choice activist and opponent to the Healthy Youth Act, included Southworth on an email March 25 with an attachment of Southworth’s letter “2009 Act 134 letter.24mar10.pdf.” [July 19 was the day a signature gathering effort, started May 19, to recall Southworth failed by a small margin.]
  • On July 20, Southworth notified The Capital Times, in response to that newspaper’s public records request of May 18, 2010 that he had sent by email a copy of his letter concerning the Healthy Youth Act to Churchill on March 24, the same day he sent it by mail to the five school districts in Juneau County.
  • In neither his original response to One Wisconsin Now’s open records request nor his supplemental letter mailed July 19, did Southworth acknowledge or produce to One Wisconsin Now the email he sent to Churchill.

“District Attorney Scott Southworth withheld these records because he did not want the public to know the political nature of his work to derail the Healthy Youth Act,” said Ross. “District Attorney Scott Southworth was using his taxpayer-financed office to intimidate schools and curry favor with leading Republicans like Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker and former U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann, who oppose protecting young people by providing them with sensible, sexual education.”

One Wisconsin Now’s suit seeks to compel Southworth to produce all the additional records he has withheld and answer questions under oath about his obstruction of the state’s open records law.

A copy of One Wisconsin Now’s lawsuit is available here.

Copies of the emails received by One Wisconsin Now are available upon request.

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One Wisconsin Now is a statewide communications network specializing in effective earned media and online organizing to advance progressive leadership and values.