Wisconsin court denies professor’s appeal, orders release of his personnel records to now-graduated student journalist


UPDATE: The Wisconsin Court of Appeals denied professor Will Hagen’s appeal to stop the release of his personnel records to now-graduated student journalist Alex Nemec.

The opinion, released on June 20, 2018, affirmed the original ruling from last year, which ordered the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh to release Hagen's records to Nemec.

According to the opinion released, “the presumption of public access...outweighed any public interest in nondisclosure.”

Nemec graduated in January 2018, and said he will be giving the records to the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh student newspaper, the Advance-Titan, when they are released.

“I’m thrilled that the court decided to affirm the case and rule in my favor,” Nemec said in an email. “I’m eager to see what these records hold and finally get around to finding out the truth of what happened last year when I first reported on it. I think this case is an important one when it comes to records request and freedom of information and I’m happy the court ruled the right way.”

In an email, Nemec's attorney, Christa Westerberg said the ruling “affirms the importance of public oversight of and access to information about public universities, which is of particular importance to student journalists who monitor these institutions.”

Editor’s note: Attorney Christa Westerberg was recruited by the Student Press Law Center to take on the case pro bono as part of our Attorney Referral Network.


UPDATE: Professor Will Hagen filed an appeal with the Wisconsin Court of Appeals on Oct. 17, just before his 20-day deadline was up. Lawyer Peter Culp, who represents Hagen, told The Advance-Titan that the case, "will now be reviewed and decided by a three-judge panel of the Wisconsin appellate court."

The Advance Titan also reports Hagen is back on campus teaching.

9/26 /2017

WISCONSIN — A Winnebago County Circuit Court judge ruled against a professor who tried to stop the University of Wisconsin - Oshkosh from releasing his personnel records to student journalist Alex Nemec.

At a conference call hearing on Sept. 20, Judge Daniel Bissett denied Professor Will Hagen's petition for a statutory injunction against the university, which would prevent the university from releasing documents pertaining to a closed investigation against him to The Advance-Titan Editor-in-Chief Nemec.

The judge also ordered the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh to eliminate three redactions it proposed on the requested documents.

Attorney Aaron Dumas, representing Nemec, said the proposed redactions involved general references to the university accounting department, to Hager's credential as a certified public accountant and to a statement the professor made to a classroom of students. He said the redactions were discussed at the hearing and entered into the minutes, which are now public record.

Earlier this year, Hagen was pulled out of a classroom mid-lecture and stopped teaching classes. Nemec tried to figure out why the professor had been removed. He asked the university for Hagen's emails for the semester and university police reports. The university denied access to the records, claiming it couldn't release information pertaining to an ongoing investigation.

Nemec followed up and asked for other personnel records, including any relating to a closed investigation against Hagen. After the university agreed to release some of the records, Hagen went to court to try to stop them.

Hagen argued releasing the records would violate his privacy as an employee, as the records contained personal and confidential matters. Nemec then filed a motion asking that the court dismiss Hagen's request and order that the records be released.

On Sept. 28, the university submitted an order for the records, which was signed by the court. Hagen has 20 days to file an appeal with the Wisconsin Court of Appeals. The records cannot be released until after the 20 days have passed.

SPLC staff writer Emily Goodell can be reached by email or (202) 478-1926.

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