One Wisconsin Now Prevails in Open Records Lawsuit Against Alberta Darling
Taxpayers Forced to Pay for Settlement After Darling Refused to Release Records
MADISON, Wis. — One Wisconsin Now has settled a lawsuit filed in August in Dane County Circuit Court against state Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) over her office’s refusal to release correspondence sought under the state’s open records law detailing her office’s communications with private school advocates.
The settlement requires payment of One Wisconsin Now’s legal fees, which will unfortunately be borne by taxpayers due to Darling’s disregard for the open records law. One Wisconsin Now was represented in the case by Christa Westerberg of McGillvray Westerberg & Bender LLC. The Attorney General’s office represented Darling in the suit.
“Sen. Darling refused to comply with the state’s open records law and now taxpayers have to foot the bill for her arrogance,” said Scot Ross, One Wisconsin Now Executive Director. “Sen. Darling was either trying to hide something or too busy campaigning to follow the law and we believe she should personally pay the legal bill and not the taxpayers.”
One Wisconsin Now filed its open records request June 8, 2011, requesting letters, emails, correspondence and appointment calendars related to on-going and expanded school privatization efforts in Wisconsin. One Wisconsin Now requested specific correspondence from a number of individuals and organizations, most notably former Republican Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen and his organization, the American Federation for Children.
After hearing nothing from Darling’s office, One Wisconsin Now sent a subsequent follow-up request July 13, 2011, which was ignored in violation of the Open Records Law and Wis. Stat. 19.35(4)(a) by failing to, “as soon as practicable and without delay” either fulfill the request or provide reason why it is being denied. The Wisconsin Department of Justice and the Office of the Attorney General have pointedly advised a response within 10 business days. One Wisconsin Now made a similar request to four additional legislators, who all met the request in a timely fashion, as prescribed by law.
After the filing of the lawsuit, Darling’s office released the records that showing email communication from a lobbyist from the school privatization industry organization, the American Federation for Children.
During the state senate recall elections this summer, American Federation for Children spent over $500,000 in television ads, including ones to support Darling in her recall election. In addition to the $800 million in cuts to public education, Darling, as the chair of the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee, approved $35 million in new private school funding and helped expand the program.
“Let this be a lesson: when One Wisconsin Now files an open records request, we mean business,” said Ross. “Lawmakers like Alberta Darling do not get to pick and choose which laws they get to follow.”
In January One Wisconsin Now prevailed in an open records action against Republican Juneau County District Attorney Scott Southworth. Southworth agreed to pay One Wisconsin Now $8,950 in legal fees, expenses and statutory damages after it was revealed he failed to fully-respond to an open records request related to communications about the state’s “Healthy Youth Act” and his correspondence with numerous extremist right wing organizations and leaders. Taxpayers were also forced to foot the bill for Southworth’s actions.
A copy of the stipulation is available at: http://www.onewisconsinnow.org/images/20111028102830.pdf