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State Supreme Court will hear arguments in The News’ case against city

On Friday, Sept. 18, the Supreme Court of Wisconsin will hear oral arguments in the case brought by the New Richmond News and its publisher Steve Dzubay against the City of New Richmond for its policy of redacting police reports in an interpretation of Driver’s Privacy and Protection Act (DPPA).

Media attorney and WNA counsel, Robert J. Dreps, of Godfrey & Kahn, said the court could reach a decision by late 2015 in a best case scenario, but it’s more likely to be handed down in early 2016.

In June 2014, a St. Croix County Circuit Court judge ruled that the DPPA does not require police departments to redact identifying information gathered from driver’s licenses that are documented in official reports.

A 2012 decision by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Senne v. the Village of Palatine led many municipalities’ law enforcement to begin to redact the information when reporters asked for the public records.

The city appealed the ruling, which then sent the case to the state Court of Appeals.

However, the Wisconsin Supreme Court agreed in May 2015 to hear the case, bypassing the Court of Appeals.

Also in June 2014, the Wisconsin Newspaper Association brokered a deal with the League of Municipalities and other local government associations that encourages police departments to give unredacted police reports to reporters who turn in a form promising that the information will be used in the public interest.

Meanwhile, the federal courts have again dismissed the Palatine Case. That suit alleged that the village practice of placing a parking ticket on a car windshield constituted violation of the DPPA.

The appeals court in 2012 reinstated the suit, rejecting the district court’s ruling that the practice was not a “disclosure” of personal information and directed the lower court to consider the village’s other defenses.

The district court again ruled for the village, finding its use of personal information on the parking ticket serves a valid law enforcement agency function and the 7th Circuit Court upheld that ruling in April.

Dreps said the possibility remains that Senne could ask the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.

-- Submitted by the Wisconsin Newspaper Association