MADISON, Wis. - The Rock County Sheriff says a federal law means they may no longer release the names of drunk drivers, but the new policy at the department may be revisited as soon as Monday.
Officials at the department informed the news media in the last two weeks they would no longer be releasing names in several arrests or crashes.
Their decision, Sheriff Bob Spoden says is because of the federal Driver Privacy Protection Act and a 2012 court decision from Illinois saying police shouldn't put identifying information on parking tickets.
In response, Rock County, as well as at least 60 other municipalities in Wisconsin have begun redacting arrest and crash records. Most recently in Rock county they decided to not release names of multiple time drunk drivers as they had in the past. Spoden says the decision is because of concerns of possibly being sued by those who have their name released.
"I think there's a certain element of risk," said Spoden. "I think law enforcement agencies are concerned whether they're putting their agencies into some type of liable situation. I think it's their interpretation and the risk they're willing to take and their policy toward open government."
"I definitely think they are worried about being sued under the DPPA but the fact is there has never been a suit anywhere in the country for disclosing a public record in compliance with state law," said media attorney Bob Dreps.
Dreps recently defended a northern Wisconsin newspaper in a lawsuit over this issue. A circuit court judge's decision now says that municpalities should be releasing these records.
That decision just came down last week, and Spoden says as a result his department will have a meeting Monday to re-evaluate the policy.
He says he believes it's likely he'll go back to releasing these records.
Many law enforcement agencies have asked Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen to release guidance on the issue. A spokesman for the Department of Justice told News 3 Friday "It is the long-standing policy of this office not to issue opinions on matters that are the subject of ongoing litigation, and until it's determined whether there will be an appeal, this case is unresolved."
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