RACINE — Alderman Sandy Weidner’s hearing for contempt of court will be open to the public, as a result of advocacy from the Wisconsin Newspaper Association and other media representatives.
Weidner, who represents the 6th District, appeared before Racine County Circuit Court Judge Eugene Gasiorkiewicz on Tuesday morning for speaking publicly about an open records case Gasiorkiewicz had sealed.
“This court’s position, ma’am, is that whether or not you agree or disagree with my seal order, it is the order of this court,” Gasiorkiewicz told Weidner at the hearing. “You must be compliant with that order, even if you think it is imprudent or an abuse of exercise of discretion, you must be compliant with that order until a court of appeals, which your present council has brought before it as an issue, makes its determination.”
Weidner spoke with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and the Associated Press regarding a sealed case she said began last year when City Attorney Scott Letteney held a meeting with aldermen, in which he showed a collection of emails that Weidner and two other aldermen had sent to constituents.
Letteney allegedly told Weidner he was going to send the case to the city’s Ethics Board. Weidner filed an open records request for the emails in the presentation and was denied. She then filed a lawsuit against the city.
Gasiorkiewicz, who presided over the case, sealed it in February.
Weidner’s contempt of court hearing is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 3.
Court open to public, but not case files
The hearing was initially scheduled to be closed to the public. But Gasiorkiewicz opened the courtroom to the public in response to a letter submitted Monday by Brian Spahn of Godfrey & Kahn S.C. advocating on behalf of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association and Wisconsin Broadcasters Association.
“The News Media (sic) is unaware of any ‘higher values’ that would be served by blocking all public access to tomorrow’s hearing,” the letter stated. “Indeed, if the court decides to sanction Ms. Weidner, the public has a right to know why.”
Spahn also requested in court that Gasiorkiewicz unseal the motion for contempt of court. The judge denied the request, stating the motion contained information from the sealed lawsuit.
“I want to make myself quite clear: I’m willing to open this courtroom for the issue of the contempt,” said Gasiorkiewicz. “With respect to the content of the actual seal order, it’s not going to part and parcel.”
“This court’s position, ma’am, is that whether or not you agree or disagree with my seal order, it is the order of this court.” Racine County Circuit Court Judge Eugene Gasiorkiewicz