Green Bay answers lawsuit, says lawmakers had no expectation to privacy in City Hall

The City of Green Bay asks a federal court to dismiss the lawsuit over audio recording devices in hallways
Green Bay surveillance lawsuit
Published: Nov. 15, 2023 at 9:19 AM CST|Updated: Nov. 15, 2023 at 5:35 PM CST
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - The City of Green Bay responded to a lawsuit filed by an attorney for the Wisconsin State Senate, asking a U.S. District Court to dismiss the lawsuit.

Audio recording devices were installed in City Hall between December 2021 and July 2022. They were placed outside the doors of the city clerk’s office, mayor’s office, and city council chambers.

Last February, an attorney representing the Senate threatened a lawsuit if the city failed to remove audio surveillance devices from hallways in City Hall and destroy any audio recordings. Ryan J. Walsh said there was no signage to make the public aware of recording devices.

In a response filed Monday, the city argued the lawsuit should be dismissed because the plaintiffs don’t have proof that private conversations were recorded and because they can’t prove they have an expectation of privacy in a hallway at City Hall.

Former city council member Anthony Theisen and State Sen. Andre Jacque, a De Pere Republican, both claim private conversations were recorded. Theisen said that included at least one private conversation in the hallway about the city budget,” and Jacque said in a complaint “at least one of his private conversations at City Hall over the past few years may have been recorded.”

The City says in its response, both Theisen and Jacque “fail to identify the necessary facts about these alleged conversations (when they occurred, where they took place, with whom they were had, etc.) to equip the Court to determine whether the alleged conversations plausibly took place when and where the audio surveillance technology could have recorded them.”

“Senator Jacque coining one potential conversation in the hallways of City Hall as ‘private’ is not enough to plead a claim,” the response reads.

The City’s response also claims Mayor Eric Genrich did not violate the law “and is entitled to qualified immunity” as a city official.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are requesting the city’s recordings as part of the discovery as the lawsuit proceeds, and said details about when their private conversations were recorded would come out when the court grants access to recordings.

Walsh’s lawsuit was filed on behalf of Sen. Jacque, Theisen, and a citizen identified only as “Jane Doe.” The City of Green Bay and Mayor Eric Genrich were named as defendants.

A three-day trial is set to start May 20, 2024, after a final pre-trial hearing scheduled on May 10.

The City’s response runs 21 pages. Attorneys for the City filed a motion with the court to exceed its 15-page limit on responses, which the court granted.