MADISON, Wis. — Law enforcement training videos featuring Attorney General Brad Schimel aren’t subject to release under the open records law and doing so could tell pedophiles how to evade capture, Wisconsin’s solicitor general told the state Supreme Court on Tuesday.
The court is considering whether the state’s open records law requires the 2009 and 2013 recordings to be made public, or whether they can remain secret. The tapes were requested by the state Democratic Party in 2014 just weeks before Schimel was elected attorney general and have been the subject of a few court rulings. The high court will release an opinion in the coming months.
Justices peppered attorneys Tuesday with questions about whether the open records law requires the tapes to be released and whether doing so would harm victims or reveal too much information about law enforcement techniques.
“There’s really no good that would come from releasing these two tapes,” Solicitor General Misha Tseytlin said. “But there would be a lot of bad.”
The DOJ also has argued that the videos would undermine the state’s ability to train prosecutors and police officers in the future.
Schimel, who tries to position himself as a strong advocate of transparency and regularly holds training sessions for government officials on the open meetings and records laws, did not attend Tuesday’s arguments. The tapes were made when Schimel was Waukesha County district attorney.
Democrats say the videos show Schimel making questionable remarks at State Prosecutors Education and Training seminars, which were sponsored by DOJ. The lawsuit offered no evidence supporting the allegation, which Schimel has denied, and a lower court said he did not appear to say anything inappropriate.
Attorney Michael Bauer, representing the Democratic Party, argued Tuesday that there’s no information on the tapes that isn’t already readily available on the Internet or that is outdated.
“You come away with ‘What’s so novel to be protected here?'” Bauer said. “It really is basic, well-known techniques to law enforcement.”
The 2009 video was made during a presentation about internet sexual predator cases and the 2013 presentation centered on interacting with victims of sensitive crimes.
In the 2013 video, Schimel details a well-known sex assault case in which a high school student in Waukesha County posed as a female online, obtained graphic pictures from his male classmates and used them to extort sexual acts.
But Chief Justice Pat Roggensack questioned whether releasing it could re-victimize the men, who aren’t named in the video, because of how many details are discussed. Bauer said he would not object to redacting the one detail that hasn’t been made public, and DOJ attorneys also have said they would be open to releasing the tapes with portions edited out.
A state appeals court ruled last year that the videos must be made public under the state open records law, saying there was no compelling reason to keep them secret. The ruling affirmed one made in 2014 by a Dane County circuit judge. Both lower courts said the content of the tapes was routine and there was no danger that law enforcement tactics or victims’ privacy would be compromised in releasing them.
Justice Dan Kelly made his first appearance on the bench for oral arguments Tuesday after being appointed by Gov. Scott Walker in July.