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Alderman responds to paper's lawsuit



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July 21, 2010 | 09:00 AM
Lake Geneva Alderwoman Mary Jo Fesenmaier and her attorneys have denied the complaint made by the Lake Geneva Regional News alleging the elected official violated Wisconsin's open records laws.

The Regional News filed its complaint against Fesenmaier late last month citing her failure to provide public records. The complaint focused on e-mails requested of city officials, including Fesenmaier, in February and March by the Regional News and its editor, Lisa Seiser.

The response to the Regional News complaint states that, "the defendant (Fesenmaier) is not in possession of any records responsive to said public records requests and, therefore, no documents were produced ..."

Attorney Amy Doyle, of Crivello Carlson, filed the response last week in Walworth County Circuit Court. Doyle is one of the city's insurance company-hired attorneys dealing with the Mirbeau and Hummel lawsuits. She represents Fesenmaier, Penny Roehrer, Tom Spellman and Arleen Krohn in those cases.

Doyle is asking the request for a mandamus order to provide the e-mails be dismissed and judgement for costs of the action and other relief the court deems just and equitable.

The public requests revolved around e-mails sent and received concerning the Mirbeau and Hummel development proposals, which now are part of two separate lawsuits against the city totaling about $150 million. That total could increase to about $400 million if Hummel files its suit against city officials for racketeering allegations.

On May 21, Fesenmaier provided a typed note stating, "I have no records to share regarding your open records request." The newspaper has not received any e-mails from Fesenmaier. However, Penny Roehrer, a former alderwoman, provided records in which Fesenmaier was the sender and recipient of e-mails that mentioned the Mirbeau or Hummel developments.

The complaint states, "E-mails produced by Ms. Roehrer and the civil complaint filed in federal court confirm that (the) defendant possesses records responsive to the plaintiff's requests."

The Regional News is asking the court rule Fesenmaier violated Wisconsin's open records laws, a mandamus order directing Fesenmaier to produce the requested records and award the newspaper for their reasonable attorney's fees, damages of not less than $100, punitive damages and other actual costs related to their open records complaint.

According to the Regional News complaint, Seiser made written public records requests on Feb. 24 asking for e-mails "collected during the professional hard drive mirroring process and scans of your computer regarding Mirbeau and Hummel. I am specifically referring to the e-mails obtained when you brought your computers to City Hall for scanning as part of the discovery process for current court cases."

A second request made on March 12, asked for "all your e-mails regarding the Mirbeau and Hummel development process. I am specifically asking for any e-mails between yourself and other current aldermen, former aldermen, mayor, former mayors and other entities and organizations (Vote No Mirbeau and Friends of Geneva Lake) all that included anything to do with discussions about the Mirbeau or Hummel developments, proposals and land. I am asking that you provide e-mails that go back to April 2007 until now, including the e-mails you provided to your attorney."

The complaint states that Fesenmaier's response to the records request violates open records law by "failing to notify plaintiffs of the reasons she was denying the request." It also states that Fesenmaier violated open records by "failing to fill, deny or otherwise respond" as soon as "practicable and without delay."

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