The MacIver News Service reported here Tuesday that the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office recently denied their open records request for the "total number of hours employees spent working on the John Doe investigation, because no such single document exists." The MacIver Institute calls this an assertion. I believe the Milwaukee County DA’s office. But that doesn’t mean, however, that the cost of the Scott Walker fishing expedition will never be known.
Open records requests can be a lot like mining for gold. Sometimes a few picks of the axe yield the mother lode; a batch of emails or other documents instantly reveal what you’re looking for. Or if you’re really lucky, they reveal things you weren’t looking for or didn’t even know existed. Other times the early digging simply points you to a larger vein, for which you’ll need to keep digging.
During my twenty years in the newsroom, I hung around enough DA offices to know that Deputy District Attorney James Martin is likely telling the truth when he says the complete record on this investigation’s cost and time spent on it doesn’t exist. But the documents to build it very likely do. Note his statement to the MacIver Institute:
"The public records law 'does not require an authority to create a new record by extracting information from existing records and compiling the information in a new format."(emphasis mine)
What Martin is saying there, very likely unintentionally, is that what MI and other conservatives are looking for is there. But some assembly, indeed a lot of assembly, will be required. This would include records of when investigators worked, hours of the day they worked, and compare them to typical hours. It would mean records of where they worked, traveled, etc. It would mean records (if released) of who they spoke with and when. And this list is hardly exhaustive. This picture is a mosaic and putting it together will be labor intensive, to say the least.
Could the Milwaukee County DA’s office do this legwork for us? Sure. Should they keep a better eye on the workload of their employees? One would hope so, yes. Does the law require them to? No, it doesn’t.
That would be our job. And it likely won’t be a job for just one person, or even just one entity, as the MacIver Institute. A lot of such entities read and or subscribe to Right Wisconsin. They could consider a collaborative effort to share the work. It depends on how badly you want it.
Jerry Bader is a regionally syndicated conservative talk show host in northern Wisconsin. You can find more from Jerry at jerrybadershow.com