A coalition including the Wisconsin Newspaper Association, Wisconsin Broadcasters Association, Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, and Society of Professional Journalists filed an amicus brief on Tuesday in an open meetings lawsuit being considered by the state Court of Appeals. The case, Oitzinger v. City of Marinette, involved two separate meetings — in October. 6th, 2020, and October 7th, 2020 — during which Marinette alderman Doug Oitzinger claims the Marinette Common Council violated the open meetings law. In December 2023, a Circuit Court judge ruled in a split decision that the council violated the open meetings law during the October 7th, meeting, but not on October 6th.  Because of the split, he declined to award attorney’s fees to either side.

In the brief filed last Tuesday, attorneys Will Kramer and Christa Westerberg argue on behalf of the coalition that Marinette seeks to dramatically expand the open meetings law’s exemption for competitive and bargaining reasons. The brief also contends that courts may not refuse to award attorneys’ fees under the open meetings law on the basis that there is a split decision. “It is essential to the proper functioning of the Open Meetings Law that courts determine that relators are entitled to their attorneys’ fees and costs when they successfully challenge any violation of the Law,” the brief states. “While the amount may be adjusted based on the degree of success, the bare fact of entitlement to fees should not be. … If courts may refuse to award fees to relators any time there is a split decision, relators are likely to only challenge the most egregious violations on a piecemeal approach.”