MN media groups intervene in Wetterling lawsuit, call for release of Jacob case files

The Wetterling family has until Friday to tell a judge which information they want holding back.
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A coalition of journalism groups and media outlets have intervened in a legal case, and are calling on a judge to release files that are part of the Jacob Wetterling case.

The Wetterling family filed a restraining order against the Stearns County Sheriff's Office earlier this month, days ahead of a release of thousands of pages from the Wetterling investigation file. They argued that a small part contains highly personal information unrelated to the case, which they feel breaches their privacy.

On Monday, groups including the Minnesota Newspaper Association and media outlets including MPR, the Pioneer Press and KSTP intervened in the case, urging Judge Ann Currott to not allow the constitutional right of privacy to override the Data Practices Act.

The release of the files had been delayed after the Wetterlings filed the restraining order, and on Monday they were adamant that their privacy should be protected in spite of the intervention of Minnesota media.

A statement from the family's lawyer, Doug Kelley, said a tiny part of the file ("less than three one thousands of one percent") contains "intensely personal" information "which do not belong in a police file."

He also says it contains "misinformation of a character" that "I've never seen in 42 years in practicing criminal law."

In their intervention, the media groups state that the Wetterling family "recognizes that the records in question are classified as public" under Minnesota data laws, and fear that allowing some information to be held back could set an unwanted precedent for future public transparency cases.

The sheriff's office was set to release them after that the case was closed following the confession of Jacob Wetterling's killer, Danny Heinrich, and the subsequent discovery of his body.

The Minnesota Newspaper Association, the St. Cloud Times reports, said in response: "While sincerely sympathetic to the Wetterlings, (the MNA) believes the lawsuit poses a direct threat to the integrity of the Data Practices Act, the state law that governs the classification of government records and that requires most to be made public."

The Wetterlings have until Friday to tell Judge Ann Carrott which pages they do not feel should be released, the St. Cloud Times reports.

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