Thomas Woznicki is back in the news. Yes, the same Woznicki of the “Woznicki notice” and “Woznicki fix.”
And he’s trying, once again, to block the release of records-the same records he tried to block more than two decades ago.
The origin of the infamous Woznicki open records implications started in 1994 when Thomas Woznicki, an English teacher at New Richmond High School, was charged with having consensual sex with a minor over the age of 16. After the prosecutor dismissed the case, Woznicki sought an order prohibiting the release of his personnel file in response to a public records request.
The circuit court denied his motion, but Woznicki appealed and the Wisconsin Supreme Court established a disastrous precedent that required records custodians to send a “Woznicki notice” before disclosure to anyone who was the subject of an public records request.
“That basically meant that if you wanted to see a dog license at City Hall, the government would have to send the owner a Woznicki notice,” said Bob Dreps, attorney for the Wisconsin Newspaper Association. Those who were sent notice could then fight to block the release of said records.
After a long-fought legislative battle by open records advocates in the state, the “Woznicki fix” was adopted in 2003. The amendment significantly limited the notice and review process for the majority of records requests and established a timeframe for notification and review of the most sensitive personnel records.
Now, individuals are only entitled to notice when records are the result of a public employee disciplinary matter, they’re obtained by a subpoena or search warrant, or involve private sector employee records in the hands of a government entity. Those who receive notice still have the right to go to court to block release, but that right does not extend to high-ranking public officials who are only able to augment the record.
Woznicki has, once again, chosen to go to court to try to prevent disclosure of the same records at issue in his earlier case.
The records request he’s trying to thwart, filed by Citizens for Responsible Government, was prompted by Woznicki’s resignation in August from his position as district administrator of the Boscobel School District. He held the position for just one year.
We’ll have to wait and see whether his New Richmond personnel records remain under lock and key. But if they do, it’ll be the exception.
“As far as I know, no one has ever won one of these Woznicki challenges,” Dreps said.
-- By Julia Hunter
Hunter is the Director of Member Services for the Wisconsin Newspaper Association