It is absolutely untrue that in 2009 the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals received “full access” to UW-Madison records on research involving cats.
As co-counsel for PETA in its open records lawsuit against the university, I take issue with last Saturday’s column, “Cat research, after all the drama,” by Eric Sandgren, director of the Research Animal Resources Center at UW-Madison.
UW did not, and has not to this day, released the so-called “proprietary” details of its experiments on the brains of living cats. And the records and photos that we finally obtained are far from complete.
The primary justification UW gave the court for its refusal to release either the written or photographic documents related to these “surgeries” came in an affidavit submitted to the court in 2011 by the primary researcher: “The surgical technique was developed by a non-UW researcher who shared the technique with me on the condition that I keep the technique confidential.”
Despite several requests for some evidence of this confidentiality agreement, and a promise by the UW to produce it, it was never provided to the court. UW even refused to name this “non-UW researcher” who allegedly extracted this confidentiality pledge.
After several months of digging through publicly available research papers, we found the “non-UW researcher,” and when we spoke with him directly, he stated there was no such confidentiality agreement. In fact, it appeared that the work of this “non-UW researcher” was funded by a National Institutes of Health grant that stipulated he make it freely and publicly available.
In August of 2011, we informed the court of our conversation with this “non-UW research,” and soon after UW expressed an interest in settling our open records case. In January and February of 2012, my client and I met several times with UW’s attorney for the purpose of reaching an agreement on how the photos and records would be blurred or redacted to hide the details the UW still argued were “proprietary.”
In the interest of getting this information to the public as soon as possible, PETA signed a restrictive confidentiality agreement governing the release of the photos and records. In June of 2012, PETA finally obtained the records and photos, still heavily redacted.
Contrary to Sandgren’s claim, even in settlement, PETA was not provided with access to “the complete description of all procedures and medical interventions.”
Sandgren claims he cannot understand why PETA waited until it obtained the dramatic post-surgical photos of the UW’s cats before it publicized its find.
Months of work went into obtaining these records and photos, and as the old saying goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” This is especially true when 990 of those words are redacted!
Leslie A. Hamilton is a Madison attorney.