Is Gableman Above the (Open Records) Law?
*UPDATE BELOW*Way back in September, One Wisconsin Now made an open records request of Burnett County Judge Michael Gableman. In it we asked for copies of emails from his state email account that fit a very specific set of keywords and phrases. Most of them were political which included both names of individuals and organizations such as the Republican Party of Wisconsin.
Here is a complete list of the original keywords and phrases:
campaign, conflict of interest, election, Ziegler, ethics complaint, Jim Pugh, Jim Haney, Graul, Prange, Stitt, McCallum, Thompson, Graber, Kohler, Doyle, Bush, abortion, Republican Party, RPW, sick leave, Butler, Louis Butler, Federalist, Federalist Society, One Wisconsin Now, OWN, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, and WMC
Over a month later Gableman sent copies of 45 emails but said that there were eight emails that he was refusing to send because they were ‘purely personal.’ This despite the fact that they were on his state account and came up during a search for mostly political names and phrases.
In January we sent a follow up to our original request, revising our list by eliminating the word ‘abortion.’ We also suggested that if only portions of the state emails were ‘purely personal’ that Gableman should simply redact those portions of the emails that fit our revised search criteria. Gableman refused to respond to our revised request and we were forced to send more correspondence reminding him that the State Department of Justice says that 10 business days is usually a reasonable amount of time to respond to an open records request.
Over a month later, Gableman finally responded to our revised request, suggesting that he had already complied with our open records request despite the fact that he had not turned over any of the eight state emails that he previously withheld.
Are we really to believe that these eight emails are ‘purely personal’ even though they contain the very political words and names in our request? What is Michael Gableman hiding? We know that he has apparently traveled to political fundraisers on taxpayer time, and that he has made what appear to be political fundraiser calls from a state phone. Is he also misusing his state email account for political purposes? Given all of these recent developments, he should be going out of his way to be open and transparent, not evasive and secretive.
It is a shame that One Wisconsin Now has been forced to file an open records complaint against Michael Gableman with the Burnett County District Attorney. Allowing him to continue hiding public records was not an option. Michael Gableman is a sitting judge but he is not above the law and has no right or power to block the public’s right to an open government.
*UPDATE* The AP reported today on the filing of our complaint. They also revealed that they also requested emails of Gableman and, unlike his opponent, he has failed to fulfill their request.