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City of Racine has paid more than $129k on open records case

City of Racine has paid more than $129k on open records case

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RACINE — The City of Racine has spent over $129,000 to litigate the open records court case brought by former alderman Sandy Weidner.

The cost was revealed Friday after the city fulfilled an open records request originally filed by The Journal Times in October for an updated total of litigation costs.

The city last reported in January 2019 that a total of $76,669 had been paid to attorney Michael Cohen of the Milwaukee firm of Meissner, Tierney, Fisher and Nichols to handle the suit. Cohen was hired on Dec. 5, 2017.

The update comes after the case was recently sent back to the Racine County Circuit Court after the Wisconsin Court of Appeals ruled that an amended petition Weidner filed in February 2018, previously rejected by Racine County Circuit Court Judge Eugene Gasiorkiewicz, should have been allowed.

Sandy Weidner contempt of court

Alderman Sandy Weidner of the 6th District appears at a contempt of court hearing at the Racine County Courthouse in September 2018. 

“Weidner had an absolute right to amend her petition, which she clearly tried to exercise,” the Court of Appeals decision read. “Because the circuit court erred in refusing to accept the amended petition and treated the original petition as operative, we reverse its judgment and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.”

On Tuesday, Weidner filed a request to substitute Gasiorkiewicz from her case. The case has since been assigned to Racine County Circuit Court Judge Michael Piontek.

No future hearing date had yet been set as of Friday afternoon, online court records showed.

Scott Letteney

Letteney

The Journal Times reached out to Racine City Attorney Scott Letteney for a comment on the litigation costs, but he did not immediately respond.

Origins

The case stems from a closed-session meeting in fall 2017, during which Racine City Attorney Scott Letteney showed City Council members a collection of emails that Weidner and two other aldermen had sent to constituents that Letteney thought violated attorney-client privilege.

The emails included correspondence about everything from the city’s Redevelopment Authority to a case involving a bar’s liquor license. It also included an email sent to a former Journal Times reporter about scheduling for a public meeting, a PowerPoint presentation reportedly given at a public meeting, and details about development projects including the proposed arena project.

Letteney said he was going to send the emails to the city’s Ethics Board for review. When Weidner requested a copy of the emails, she was denied. She filed a lawsuit in December 2017 demanding the records.

Gasiorkiewicz previously said that the initial decision to seal the case was made before the first hearing in the matter. He said that the City of Racine, represented by attorney Michael Cohen, initially requested to seal the case.

After Weidner spoke with the news media in August 2018 about the case, she was found guilty of civil contempt of court. Weidner’s attorneys filed a challenge to unseal the case, as well as to the contempt of court conviction, with the Court of Appeals.

In January 2019, the majority of the documents in Weidner’s open-records case were made public — with some redaction.

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Alyssa Mauk covers breaking news and courts. She enjoys spending time with her family, video games, heavy metal music, watching YouTube videos, comic books and movies.

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