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Sigh. Is it really that hard for state legislators to comply with the state’s open records laws and provide public information in a straightforward and timely fashion?

Wisconsin saw another case of foot-dragging and obstructionism last week when a conservative law firm, the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, was forced to sue Democratic state Rep. Jonathan Brostoff of Milwaukee to get copies of his emails related to occupational licensing reform.

Brostoff opposes the reform and WILL supports it, so it was probably no surprise when the law firm asked for copies of the legislator’s emails on the subject late last year.

WILL requested the records be delivered in electronic format, but an aide to Brostoff told the law firm they would have to write a check for $3,240 for thousands of pages of printed copies.

Instead of, maybe, putting it on a thumb drive or two for a cost of $20 or so?

Brostoff’s staff said they relied on the advice of the Assembly chief clerk that Assembly policy and state law allow them to provide the emails in paper format.

Last week, WILL sued in Dane County circuit court arguing denial of the electronic records was “arbitrary and capricious.”

What is remarkable about the records flap is that it came less than a month after another judge ruled that, yes, a requester had a right to get such a public record in electronic form.

Dane County Circuit Judge Rhonda Lanford ruled in January that Rep. Scott Krug, R-Nekoosa, should have provided electronic copies of emails requested by Progressive Magazine managing editor Bill Lueders.

Lanford wrote in her opinion: “If a requester indicates that his ability to access the recod would be best served by a particular format of copy, the custodian should produce the copy in that format unless doing so would be so burdensome as to be inconsistent with the conduct of government business.”

Instead of absorbing that judicial ruling, Brostoff doubled down after the suit was filed and said he was kind of proud he was being sued.

“This is the first time I’ve had an extreme right-wing group actually sue me. It’s kind of a nice notch in the cap in that regard,” Brostoff told a Madison newspaper.

“I think they’re (WILL) going to keep on attacking me, keep going after me, keep trying to bully me and they’re going to realize that I ain’t no punk and I’m not afraid of them,” he said. “They’re going to end up spending a lot of Bradley Foundation and Koch brother money trying to justify their existence to their extreme right-wing donors and I’m going to keep doing the right thing and fighting for the little guy.”

If anyone is doing any bullying here, it is Brostoff. It matters not if a request is made by a right-wing organization, a left-wing organization or Grandma Moses. These are public records under the state’s open records law and it is the obligation of the custodian — in this case, Brostoff — to supply them and do so in a format that is easy and useful to provide and not hold them up for a $3,000 paper ransom.

We’re confident the circuit court will tell him that, again, and we hope other legislators take notes.


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