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MADISON - Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen released an open memorandum to Interested Parties on the practical impact to public records custodians and public records requesters of the recent Wisconsin Supreme Court case, Schill v. Wisconsin Rapids School District. In Schill, the Court held that the Public Records Law (Wis. Stat. 19.31-19.39) does not require the disclosure of the contents of purely personal e-mails sent or received on government e-mail accounts.
Van Hollen's memorandum instructs public records custodians to be "mindful of the policy behind the Public Records Law," which states that it is "the public policy of this state that all persons are entitled to the greatest possible information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of those officers and employees who represent them." To that end, Van Hollen said the "purely personal e-mail" exception should be "narrowly applied," and emphasized that if there is "any aspect of the e-mail that may shed light on governmental functions and responsibilities, the relevant content must be released as any other record would be released under the Public Records Law."
Van Hollen's memorandum also stated that the decision should not deter records requesters concerned about the misuse of public e-mails from making public records requests.
Finally, Van Hollen's memorandum notes that further legal analysis of the Schill decision will be included in the next revision of the Wisconsin Department of Justice's Public Records Compliance Outline, which will be published this Fall.
A copy of the Wisconsin Supreme Court's decision in Schill is available at http://wicourts.gov/sc/opinion/DisplayDocument.pdf?content=pdf&seqNo=52285
Van Hollen's memorandum can be accessed at