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Judge won’t release Schimel tapes before election (UPDATE)

By SCOTT BAUER
Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A judge on Monday decided against releasing videos of Republican attorney general hopeful Brad Schimel speaking at training seminars while the judge’s earlier decision ordering them to be made public is appealed.

Dane County Circuit Judge Richard Niess’ decision marked a victory for Schimel, who held a slight lead in the polls over Democrat Susan Happ heading into Tuesday’s election. A Marquette University Law School poll released last week showed Schimel, the Waukesha County district attorney, slightly leading Happ, the Jefferson County district attorney, by 4 percentage points. The poll had a 3-point margin of error.

The state Democratic Party filed an open records request for the tapes in September, arguing that they show Schimel making inappropriate remarks at training seminars between 2009 and 2013.

The state Department of Justice denied the request on Oct. 20, saying three of the videos can’t be found and releasing the other two would reveal prosecutors’ strategies and compromise victim privacy. Democrats filed a lawsuit to force the release of the tapes before the election.

Niess said last week that the tapes should be made public, noting that he found the content to be routine. The Justice Department immediately appealed, which kept the tapes secret pending Niess’ decision about whether to release the tapes before the appeal was resolved.

Niess said there was “zero evidence” that the tapes contain information that’s critical to prosecuting crimes against children. He also said he didn’t think the state had much of a chance of winning on appeal.

Niess also reiterated that he doesn’t see what all the fuss was over the content of the tapes.

“I don’t think they’re anything earth-shaking in any respect,” he said.

Dan Bach, an attorney for the Democrats, told Niess on Monday that the public needs to see the tapes before Tuesday’s election because the public interest would be irreparably harmed if they were released after that.

Bach said after the hearing that a decision would be made within hours about whether to appeal Niess’s ruling.

The winner of that race will replace Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, who is not seeking a third term.

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