Brown County Judge Issues Restraining Order Against Green Bay Demanding Officials Cease Bugging City Hall

A Brown County judge has issued a temporary injunction, ordering the city of Green Bay and its mayor to “cease all audio surveillance and recording in Green Bay City Hall.”

Circuit Court Judge Marc Hammer late Thursday granted the injunction sought by the Wisconsin State Senate. He ordered the city to end its bugging program by 5 p.m. Thursday, almost immediately.

“Defendants are ordered not to disseminate or (except for the purposes of defending against this litigation) access any audio recordings produced by the surveillance devices,” the judge wrote in his restraining order. “All extant recordings are placed under seal of the Court and are not to be accessed by any person or entity except with this Court’s permission.”

Hammer did deny a motion by a Jane Doe plaintiff to anonymously proceed in the litigation. Ryan Walsh, attorney for the plaintiffs, was ordered to disclose the identity of Jane Doe to the city’s legal counsel.

The Senate last week filed a lawsuit against the city of Green Bay and its mayor alleging the installation of secret recording devices installed at city hall is a violation of the Wisconsin Electronic Surveillance Control Law.

The complaint sought the emergency temporary injunction and a court order requiring the defendants immediately disable the recording devices.

Plaintiffs include Green Bay-area State Senator Andre Jacque (R-De Pere), former City Council member Anthony Theisen, and the anonymous female complainant. They claim to be among the many who have had private conversations in the hallways of city hall “since the mayor secretly installed these audio surveillance devices,” the lawsuit states.

As The Wisconsin Daily Star first reported, Green Bay city officials have installed at least three audio recording devices in City Hall — without notifying the City Council or the public.

Records obtained by The Daily Star show the audio equipment was installed last year — two devices on the second floor outside the council chamber and the mayor’s office, and one on the first floor outside the clerk’s office.

Mayor Eric Genrich and the city’s legal department have defended the use of the listening devices, asserting they were installed after city staff were involved in threatening interactions with citizens. They claim use of the monitoring equipment is legal because they are located in public spaces.

The Senate’s demand letter preceding the lawsuit noted the “hallway bugs” are located in areas where members of the public, including attorneys and their clients, retreat to discuss matters discreetly. They do, indeed, under the law, have an expectation of privacy in these spaces, Walsh advises.

In its response to the Senate’s demand letter, Green Bay’s Chief of Operations Joseph Faulds issued a statement asserting the city will continue its audio surveillance, but it will provide notice about the recording devices.

City officials have not returned multiple requests for comment.

Walsh said Thursday was a “great day for the Constitution.”

“The people of Green Bay have their City Hall back,” the attorney said.

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M.D. Kittle is the National Political Editor for The Star News Network.


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