RACINE — Alderman Sandy Weidner was found in contempt of court by Judge Eugene Gasiorkiewicz Wednesday for discussing a sealed court case with reporters from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and The Associated Press.
The motion was brought by the City of Racine, represented by attorney Michael Cohen of the Milwaukee firm Meissner, Tierney, Fisher & Nichols. The city requested a remedial sanction of $15,000.
Weidner was represented by Terry Rose of Rose & Rose in Kenosha. Mark Hinkston, of Knuteson, Hinkston & Quinn in Racine, who has represented Weidner throughout the sealed open-records case that is the source of the contempt charge, was also present and was called to testify.
The court found Weidner guilty of civil contempt of court and ordered her to pay the attorney’s fees accrued by the city in the contempt case.
During his final comments, Gasiorkiewicz called Weidner’s case “the most egregious” example of contempt of court he’s seen by a lawmaker.
However, enforcement of the fine is dependent on the outcome of Weidner’s case before the state Court of Appeals. Rose said he and Hinkston will challenge the decision to seal the case as well as the contempt of court charge.
Weidner, attorney testify
Hinkston was called as the first witness. Rose objected, stating Hinkston may be asked to implicate his client. Gasiorkiewicz denied the motion and allowed Cohen to continue with questioning.
Hinkston’s testimony established that the open records case had been sealed and that Hinkston and Weidner had understood the terms of the seal.
Weidner was then called to testify. Cohen presented as evidence copies of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Associated Press stories, asking Weidner if she had spoken with the reporters.
Rose objected on the grounds of the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which gives defendants the right not to implicate themselves. Rose said the questions were foundational to the charge.
After back and forth and discussion at the bench, Gasiorkiewicz said that since the charge was civil instead of criminal, Weidner did not need to invoke the Fifth Amendment.
The city had left it to the court to determine if a referral for criminal contempt charges was warranted but withdrew the question of criminal charges. Rose argued that since the $15,000 fine the city sought was a penalty, the Fifth Amendment still applied.
Weidner ultimately invoked the Fifth for many of the questions regarding the newspaper articles on the case.
Rose argued that that no harm had been done by the information that was revealed to the news media. He also argued that Weidner would not violate the seal order a second time.
Cohen and Gasiorkiewicz countered that harm had been done.
“It is pure anarchy if people do not obey a court order,” Gasiorkiewicz said. “That is the heart-blood of an orderly society.”
Gasiorkiewicz asked that Weidner give her word that she would follow the seal order until the Court of Appeals reaches a decision on her case. She said she would.
If she does not, Gasiorkiewicz said Weidner could face a $1,000-per-day penalty.
“It is pure anarchy if people do not obey a court order. That is the heart-blood of an orderly society.” Eugene Gasiorkiewicz, Racine County Circuit Court judge