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Wisconsin State Capitol

A state lawmaker was wrong to deny a journalist electronic copies of emails he asked for through a public records request, a Dane County judge has ruled.

Rep. Scott Krug, R-Nekoosa, should have given journalist and open records advocate Bill Lueders electronic versions of emails he had requested, Dane County Circuit Judge Rhonda Lanford said in a ruling last week.

Lueders, president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, asked Krug for “citizen correspondence” on some water policy topics in an electronic form, such as a flash drive, email folder or CD, in June 2016.

Instead, Lueders was told by Krug’s staff that he could review more than 1,500 printed pages of emails in person or take home copies for a price-per-page fee. Krug denied a follow-up request from Lueders to get the records electronically.

In her ruling, Lanford wrote that Krug should have granted Lueders’ request for electronic copies of the records because requesters have a right to view electronic versions of records such as emails under the state’s open records law.

“(Lueders) clearly communicated that printed copies would not serve his needs, and he specified several electronic formats that would facilitate his ability to work with the records,” she wrote. “Under these circumstances, (Krug) was required to produce electronic copies of the records.”

The state Department of Justice is reviewing the decision and will soon decide whether to appeal, said spokesman Johnny Koremenos.

Krug didn’t respond to messages seeking comment Friday.

Lueders said electronic records are easier to use because they allow keyword searches and are more convenient because people can avoid traveling long distances to view physical copies of records.

In addition, electronic records often contain additional useful information such as metadata that can’t be gleaned from viewing physical copies of emails, he said.

“I’m pleased what happened,” Lueders said. “It is more convenient in many cases and is more useful in many cases.”

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Chris Aadland is a reporting intern for the Wisconsin State Journal.