Evidence against principal should be made available to the public

WISCONSIN — The evidence against an elementary school principal — who stirred rumors when he resigned amid allegations that he sexually molested a few school girls years before — should be made public, a Dane County judge ruled in February.

The Wisconsin State Journal filed a request to view the evidence after controversy erupted between members of the Madison community who felt that the principal’s resignation was a tacit acknowledgment of his guilt and his supporters who felt that he had been railroaded by the school district with the allegations.

The school district determined that the public’s right to know outweighed principal Stephen Kailin’s privacy interests and that it could release the compiled information. Kailin appealed, arguing that because he had resigned and surrendered his teaching license, the public no longer had such an interest.

Circuit Judge Angela Bartell wrote as part of her decision in Kailin v. Rainwater, No. 97CV000088 (Cir. Ct., Wis., Feb. 10, 1998), “The disclosure of the documents … serve[s] the important and legitimate public interest of making sufficient information available for the public to make informed judgments ….”

However, the records will remain sealed until Kailin’s appeals have been decided.

The reporter who filed the request under the state open records law observed that Bartell’s opinion should benefit the press and public. Phil Brinkman wrote in a Wisconsin Newspaper Association bulletin, “The ruling was an important victory for the public’s right to know. Had Kailin prevailed, it could mean that any public official in hot water could quash the release of incriminating records merely by leaving office. Call it the ‘I’m not a threat anymore, so leave me alone’ defense.”

reports, Spring 1998