Business lobbying group sues Wisconsin Justice Department over open records request

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin’s largest business lobbying group filed a lawsuit Thursday alleging the state Department of Justice violated public records laws by waiting a year and a half to deny a request.

Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce asked the Justice Department in March 2022 for records of communications between the agency’s employees and Sher Edling LLP, a California law firm the department hired to go after the people and businesses responsible for contamination from a group of chemicals known as PFAS. Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as “forever chemicals,” have been linked to low birth weight, cancer and liver disease, and municipalities across Wisconsin are struggling to reduce contamination from in their water supplies.

The Justice Department said in April 2022 that it was processing Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce’s request, according to the complaint filed in Dane County Circuit Court. But in September 2023 the department denied it, saying the records were protected by attorney-client privilege, the lawsuit says.

“According to the DOJ’s own policy, 10 business days would have been a reasonable timeframe for either granting WMC access to the requested records or providing a written denial,” Scott Rosenow, the lobbying group’s attorney, said in the complaint.

In response to an email seeking comment, Department of Justice spokesperson Gillian Drummond said Thursday that the department was reviewing the filings.

The complaint asks for a judge to perform a confidential review of the requested records and determine what can be made public.


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