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Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen Issues Memorandum Explaining January 8, 2013, Wisconsin Supreme Court Decision in Juneau County Star-Times v. Juneau County


MADISON — Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen has issued an informational memorandum explaining the January 8, 2013, Wisconsin Supreme Court decision in Juneau County Star‑Times v. Juneau County, 2013 WI 4, ___ Wis. 2d ___, ___ N.W.2d ___.  In its decision, the Wisconsin Supreme Court clarified certain aspects of the “contractors’ records” provision of the Wisconsin public records law.


Attorney General Van Hollen’s memorandum is available here.


The contractors’ records provision is found in Section 19.36(3) of the Wisconsin Statutes.  It requires that a government agency or other authority subject to the public records law also make available for inspection or copying, in response to a public records request, “any record produced or collected under a contract entered into by the authority with a person other than an authority to the same extent as if the record were maintained by the authority.”


The supreme court decision explained that records produced or collected “under” a contract for Section 19.36(3) purposes means records that are produced or collected in accordance with, pursuant to, in compliance with, in carrying out, subject to, because of, or in the course of the contracted-for matter.


The facts of this case involved a unique type of “tripartite relationship” among a county, the county’s insurance company, and a law firm retained by the insurance company to represent the county in a particular matter pursuant to the county’s liability insurance policy with the insurance company.  The supreme court held that the resulting contractual relationships among those entities required law firm invoices, submitted to and retained by the insurance company, to be provided in response to a public records request submitted to the county.  The supreme court explained that the unique tripartite relationship in this case differed from typical relationships among a public records authority, a contractor of the authority, and a subcontractor of the contractor.  Unless something “bridges the gap” between the authority and the subcontractor, like the tripartite relationship created by the liability insurance policy in this case, records of a subcontractor that does not itself contract with an authority are not subject to disclosure in response to a public records request.


The supreme court decision does not alter existing legal rules regarding confidentiality, attorney-client privilege, attorney work product, or other rules protecting certain information from disclosure.


The Juneau County Star-Times decision is available here.