Wisconsin Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager has praised City of Rhinelander officials for their decision last week to release a February 2004 settlement agreement reached with the City’s insurance company and stated her office would now dismiss a pending lawsuit against the City, without seeking costs and penalties against the City’s officials.
“The City’s prompt decision after this matter proceeded to litigation demonstrated their willingness to re-evaluate their earlier decision and do the right thing,” Lautenschlager said. “The purpose of the lawsuit filed by the Department of Justice’s Public Integrity Unit has been fulfilled.”
The pending civil lawsuit was filed in Oneida County Circuit Court on Aug. 18, 2004, and sought a declaration from the court that the settlement agreement is a public record, subject to disclosure under Wisconsin’s public records law, Wis. Stat. §19.37, et seq. It also sought penalties and attorneys’ fees and costs.
The Department of Justice’s Public Integrity Unit brought the lawsuit after attempts by the media to gain voluntary access to the settlement agreement reportedly failed. The City released copies of the agreement to the media on Friday afternoon, Sept. 3, Lautenschlager stated.
“The DOJ Public Integrity Unit will continue to pursue the public’s right to access records which inappropriately contain confidentiality or “do not release” clauses,” Lautenschlager said. “There are certainly some circumstances when governments need to protect the confidentiality of pending litigation matters, or sensitive business negotiations,” Lautenschlager explained. “However, as a general policy the public should have as much access to information about the decisions their elected officials and public officers make about their business as is reasonably possible. I will continue to fight to protect the public’s right to access information about their government.”
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