A former aide to Gov. Scott Walker convicted of misconduct in public office can’t shield thousands of documents from public review, a state appeals court judge ruled Tuesday.
First District Court of Appeals Judge Patricia Curley issued the ruling in the case of Kelly Rindfleisch, whose conviction for campaigning on taxpayer time when Walker was Milwaukee County executive remains under appeal. Rindfleisch asked that records related to the case be sealed because they include personal emails and other private communications, but several media organizations, including the State Journal, intervened to ask that the records be made public. The records originally were sealed as part of a judge’s secrecy order.
Curley noted in her ruling that “personal information collected incident to a criminal investigation is routinely included in criminal appellate records.”
“Although the investigation that led to the criminal charges against Rindfleisch generated widespread public interest, Rindfleisch is no different from any other person seeking appellate review of his or her criminal conviction,” Curley wrote.
Curley gave Rindfleisch 30 days to review documents and request that certain information, such as Social Security numbers or medical information, remain confidential. At that point, Curley said, she would issue a final ruling and release the records.
“She may not seek to shield information simply because she does not want the information to be made available to the public,” Curley wrote.
Rindfleisch’s defense attorney, Franklyn Gimbel, said he was reviewing whether the decision could be appealed. “I am disappointed by this order,” he said. “I think it imposes a very heavy burden on my client to do a lot of grunt work.”
Rindfleisch was deputy chief of staff for Walker when he was county executive in Milwaukee. She pleaded guilty and was sentenced to six months in jail for doing campaign work on behalf of then-Rep. Brett Davis, who was running for lieutenant governor, while working for the county. Her sentence was stayed during the appeals process.
Milwaukee County Assistant District Attorney Bruce Landgraf presented evidence in court that Rindfleisch traded 3,486 emails with top Walker campaign staffers, including 2,216 during regular work hours between January and October 2010 using a secret email system installed in Walker’s office.
The case stemmed from a secret John Doe investigation that resulted in convictions of six former Walker aides and associates. A separate John Doe investigation into possible illegal campaign coordination remains ongoing.
In addition to the State Journal, the media organizations that intervened include the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, The Associated Press, the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, the Wisconsin Newspaper Association and the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association.
— The Associated Press contributed to this report.