The law says that responses to record requests must be given “as soon as practicable and without delay.” Wis. Stat. § 19.35(4). This definition leaves much room for interpretation.

Wisconsin Executive Order #189 requires that a response be made within ten working days to a simple and straightforward request. If it is not possible to respond within that time, it is appropriate to acknowledge the request and explain that a response will be provided as soon as possible.

We recommend that our clients immediately send a letter acknowledging receipt of the request and, if necessary, highlighting any reason for a potential or likely delay past the 10-day response period.

Swamped? Authorities must still take care to make responding to public records requests in a timely fashion a primary priority. Penalties for a delay in granting access to records can include punitive damages and/or forfeitures against the legal custodian in their individual capacity.