In a 5-2 Supreme Court ruling filed on December 28, the Wisconsin Supreme Court overturned decisions by lower courts requiring Attorney General Brad Schimel to make public two training videos he made as a state prosecutor. The two videos in question were made for the Wisconsin Department of Justice in 2009 and 2013 when Schimel was the Waukesha County district attorney. The 2013 video specifically shows Schimel discussing prosecutorial strategy in the high profile case of Anthony Stancl.
Lower Court Ruling
The Wisconsin Democratic Party sued in 2014 to have the videos released. At the time, Schimel was running for Attorney General. In October of 2014, Dane County Circuit Judge Richard Niess ruled that the videos should be made public. He described the videos as covering tips for prosecutors on how to handle sex crimes against children. Part of the lawsuit alleged that Schimel was making questionable comments. However, the Judge Niess watched the videos and determined that no misconduct occurred.
Schimel and the Department of Justice appealed Judge Niess’s decision, and one year later in October of 2015, the Court of Appeals issued a unanimous decision affirming the lower court’s decision. Schimel again appealed, and the Supreme Court overruled both the decision of the circuit court and the court of appeals.
Supreme Court Ruling
In writing for the majority, Justice Rebecca Bradley said that the information in the videos would serve almost as a textbook for Wisconsin criminals to avoid detection and escape conviction. The majority also determined that the release of the videos could re-traumatize the victims of the crimes mentioned in the videos.
Opponents to the ruling fear that the ruling makes it more difficult for the public to monitor their government. As Attorney General, Schimel has generally taken a stance supporting open records and governmental transparency. But he took the position in this case that the videos should remain under wraps.