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Court orders Walker to turn over Wisconsin Idea records (UPDATE)

By SCOTT BAUER
Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Scott Walker’s administration must release most records related to proposed changes to the University of Wisconsin System’s mission statement, a judge ruled Friday.

Dane County Circuit Judge Amy Smith, in ruling against Walker, rejected the Republican’s argument that he could withhold the records because they were part of a “deliberative process.” Smith said no such ruling exists in Wisconsin state law.

Walker spokesman Tom Evenson said the decision would not be appealed and Walker would release the records as soon as they could be prepared Friday.

Earlier in the day, Walker posted a message on Twitter poking Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton over questions related to her official emails when she was secretary of state.

“I have turned over all my emails . I have been incredibly open about doing that,” Walker said, in an apparent reference to email disclosures he made related to a pair of investigations into his time as Milwaukee County executive and his recall election campaign.

The lawsuit, filed last year by the liberal advocacy group the Center for Media and Democracy, focused on documents related to Walker’s proposal making changes to the UW System’s mission statement known as the “Wisconsin Idea.” Walker proposed rewriting the mission statement in the 2015 state budget to focus on career readiness instead of public service and seeking a broader truth. He later backed down after a public backlash, saying it was a mistake.

The Center for Media and Democracy argued that he was illegally withholding records related to the creation of the proposal.

Smith ruled Friday that Walker wrongly withheld 12 email exchanges and six attachments, but that three attachments were properly withheld. But for the majority of the material, Smith said that Walker’s concerns over releasing the records did not outweigh the public’s interest in disclosure.

“Wisconsin Open Records Law has long-held that the public interest in disclosure — the right of the people of Wisconsin to know what their government is doing — is a strong presumption for every record,” Smith wrote.

Brendan Fischer, attorney for the group that sued, praised the ruling for striking down Walker’s attempt to create a “deliberative process” exemption to the open records law.

The emails, as described in Smith’s opinion, include communications between the governor’s office, budget-writers at the Department of Administration and the legislative office that writes bills. The attachments include edits of state law, questions for the governor’s office prepared by Department of Administration workers after drafting of the budget bill, comments from UW about the proposed changes and a 13-page PowerPoint presentation.

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