Citizens can also file a written request asking the district attorney to file a mandamus action seeking release of the records.
Letters, including Blair's, say Van Hollen "may elect to prosecute complaints involving a matter of statewide concern." But Dana Brueck, spokeswoman for the attorney Nike Air Max Tavas Nike general, confirmed no such action has been taken during Van Hollen's time in office.
That means nuanced open government complaints Air Max Thea Light Grey
The Winnebago County District Attorney's Office has a prosecutor and part time investigator specially trained in open government cases, but many other counties don't seek such training.
must be signed and notarized and include the identities of the alleged violators, the factual background of the allegation and the identity of any witnesses or relevant documentary evidence. The district attorney then decides whether to investigate and either seek corrective action or a forfeiture of up to $300 per violation for officials who knowingly violated the law.
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If the district attorney declines to take action within 20 days, a citizen can bring a court action in the name of the state. The citizen must show that: 1) he or she has a legal right to the records, 2) the government entity has a legal duty to disclose the records, 3) substantial damage would result if the petition is denied, and 4) no other adequate remedy exists under law. If successful, the requester is entitled to the records, reimbursement of attorney fees, damages of at least $100 and potentially punitive damages.
are left to local prosecutors, who may handle such cases only once or twice a year.
Blair wrote to Van Hollen in 2011 only after the Oconto County district attorney suggested Blair take his concerns to the attorney general. Blair wound up dropping the matter, but other state residents have filed legal action themselves and won civil cases after prosecutors didn't respond to their complaints.
The attorney general is the chief interpreter of Wisconsin's open meetings and public records laws and maintains lengthy compliance outlines on each subject. But in response to the hundreds of Wisconsin residents who report potential open meetings and public records violations, Van Hollen and his staffers defer legal action to local prosecutors.
But confusion remains in Wisconsin over who should be responsible for enforcing open government laws.
"(The Attorney General's Office) came back with a letter that basically said, essentially we agree with you, but we really don't have the time to get involved," said Blair, 69.
"I usually have to refresh myself with what the open meetings law is, because we just don't do it that often," said Sheboygan County District Attorney Joe DeCecco. Illinois, Iowa, Michigan and Minnesota are among the states that make either public records or open meetings violations a misdemeanor, but both offenses yield non criminal citations in Wisconsin. Fines range up to $300 for open meetings violations and $1,000 for public records Air Max Thea Metallic Pink
Blair sought action after two of three town board members participated in a meeting of another committee, enough for a quorum of the town board. Olsen said the meeting should have been posted as a joint session of the town board and committee.
An August 2011 letter to Oconto County resident Raymond Blair, for example, says the described situation in the town of Doty was a "likely violation" of open meetings law, but Assistant Attorney General Bruce Olsen called that a matter of "local concern." Olsen said the decision was "a matter of policy and resources."
Attorney general won't pursue open government complaints
Also, the district attorney can pursue a non criminal forfeiture through a separate court action. Van Hollen has never pursued such a case in seven years in office.
Van Hollen's predecessor, Peg Lautenschlager, filed court cases at least twice against public entities to enforce state open government laws.
This story is part of a Gannett Wisconsin Media Investigative Team series undertaken as part of Sunshine Week, a national initiative launched in 2002 to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. Sunshine Week runs through March 22. The attorney general does offer written opinions, however, on whether a given circumstance is likely a violation of law. Response times to recent citizen requests for an opinion range from a a few weeks to more than a year. The complaint Nike Air Max Tavas Ltr
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