Court Sides With Newspaper, Orders DNR to Turn Over Records

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A state appeals court ordered the Department of Natural Resources on Thursday to turn over disciplinary records of a warden in a victory for open records advocates.

The District 4 Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the Lakeland Times newspaper of Minocqua, which sued to obtain documents detailing a misconduct investigation into conservation warden Thomas Kroeplin.

The records do not fall under any exemptions to the state’s open records law, the court said, and “public interest in disclosing the Kroeplin misconduct investigation and disciplinary records …outweighs the public interest in nondisclosure.”

The records detail an investigation into whether Kroeplin broke DNR rules when he asked a police dispatcher to find out who owned a car parked at the home of his nephew’s ex-girlfriend. The nephew, who had tried to obtain the information six minutes earlier, was later arrested for allegedly planting drugs in the car.

The paper went to court to get the records after the DNR said it would release only a portion of them. The rest, the agency argued, fell into an exemption of the open records law for personnel records needed for “staff management planning.”

Kroeplin, meanwhile, filed suit to try to block the DNR from releasing any of the records which he said were covered by the exemption.

The two cases were consolidated and the appeals court ruled in favor of the newspaper, saying neither Kroeplin nor the DNR offered legitimate reasons to withhold the information.

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