MADISON, Wis. (AP) – Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul won’t require state Justice Department employees to sign nondisclosure agreements, scrapping a practice that his Republican predecessor began going into the 2018 campaign season.
Kaul announced in a news release Tuesday that he stopped requiring new employees to sign such agreements earlier this year, saying the move is consistent with his commitment to open government. He said he sent an email to all staffers on Monday telling them they didn’t need to sign the agreements, either.
Kaul said in the email that ethical rules as well as workplace policies require DOJ employees to safeguard confidential information. He added that DOJ staffers’ “professional judgment” should ensure confidential information remains secret.
The attorney general’s spokeswoman, Gillian Drummond, said in a separate email to The Associated Press that any signed confidentiality agreements are no longer in effect.
Bill Lueders, president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, said he wasn’t aware of any problems that the agreements had caused, but he called the practice of forcing DOJ employees to sign them “concerning.”
“Public employees must explicitly have the right to speak and to call attention to problems,” Lueders said.
The agreements define confidential information as including criminal records, personally identifiable information, health information, intellectual property and third-party proprietary information. They required DOJ personnel to lock their file cabinets and desk drawers, encrypt their emails, log off their workstations before leaving, not disclose their passwords, avoid allowing anyone to overhear their conversations and not to disclose any confidential information upon leaving the agency, among other things.
Former Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel drafted the agreements in May 2017, a month after Kaul entered the race against him.
Schimel sent all DOJ employees an email in August 2018 reminding them to sign the agreements. Schimel sent the email the same day former DOJ administrator Ed Wall released a book accusing the agency of doing a poor job of investigating abuse allegations at the state’s youth prison. He wrote that Schimel and then-Gov. Scott Walker drove him to the brink of suicide.
Walker appointed Wall as Department of Corrections secretary in 2012. Wall resigned in early 2016 as news broke of the abuse allegations at the youth prison.
State law permitted Wall to return to his previous job as DOJ’s criminal investigations administrator. Schimel gave him his old job back but quickly demoted him and placed him on administrative leave.
Schimel fired Wall a few months later after Wall wrote a letter to Walker’s chief of staff, Rich Zipperer, asking for help in getting his administrator’s job back. Wall wrote that Zipperer should feel free to shred the letter because he knew Walker didn’t want to create paper trails.
Kaul narrowly defeated Schimel in last November’s elections.