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Monday, January 26, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 11.0° F  Fair
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Photographer hassled for snapping pictures of federal courthouse
'You won't take one of the building'
Zytkiewicz at the courthouse: 'I wasn't trying to have
someone come out and hassle me.'
Zytkiewicz at the courthouse: 'I wasn't trying to have someone come out and hassle me.'
Credit:Bill Lueders

Josh Zytkiewicz says he wasn't expecting a confrontation, "but I knew it was a possibility."

The 29-year-old Madison resident, a semiprofessional photogra-pher, was aware of photo snappers elsewhere being accosted. He just didn't think it would happen here: "I've been in other places in Madison and I've never had a problem."

On Oct. 7, Zytkiewicz was strolling the downtown, taking photos with a fancy lens he'd rented for a wedding. He took some shots at the state Capitol, without incident, and made his way to the federal courthouse on Henry Street. After he took a few photos someone called out, "Hey, hey."

Zytkiewicz saw a security guard approaching and activated his iPhone's voice recorder. He later transcribed the exchange on his blog, The guard asked for his name, and Zytkiewicz replied, "Why do you need to know?" The guard: "This is the federal courthouse. We like to know why you're shooting pictures around it."

Zytkiewicz, a pizza chain cook and recent hire at a local portrait studio, remained defiant, declining to identify himself and insisting, "There's no law that says I can't take pictures." The guard began to walk away, and Zytkiewicz clicked again, whereupon the guard instructed, "But you won't take one of the building."

The guard said this was for "security procedures," adding, "I'll get a hold of Madison PD, they'll come talk to you." The guard went back inside and Zytkiewicz kept clicking, leaving without further ado after a few minutes.

Afterward, Zytkiewicz wrote his blog post, as well as letters to Sen. Herb Kohl, Rep. Tammy Baldwin and federal Judge Barbara Crabb. In a reply letter, Crabb explained that the courtroom strives to "strike a balance" between safety and accessibility.

Crabb cited heightened concerns after the 9/11 attacks and two alleged recent plots to bomb federal courthouses. She said photography of the building is permitted, but those who do so "can expect to be asked politely by a court security officer about what you are doing."

Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal Kirk Papenthien notes that many people photograph Madison's federal courthouse, with its distinctive steel-blue faade and whimsical touch of red neon. Not all are asked who they are and what they're doing. (Isthmus wasn't, in taking the photo that accompanies this story.)

But Papenthien says some picture-takers trigger inquiries, "to let people know there is a security presence." He admits people can come after hours and other times the building is closed without this occurring.

But if taking photos of the courthouse is allowed, why did the guard tell Zytkiewicz to stop taking pictures and threaten to summon police? Papenthien, who's read the blog account, says, "I have no knowledge as to whether that is an accurate transcript." And even if it were (it is - Isthmus heard the recording), Papenthien isn't saying the guard overstepped because "I have no knowledge what he [Zytkiewicz] was taking pictures of."

Two national websites, War on Photography and Photography Is Not a Crime, have picked up on Zytkiewicz's experience, which they say is part of a national trend. For instance, a Milwaukee TV meteorologist who takes photos for his newscasts was recently pulled over and questioned by police after taking pictures of a government building.

Zytkiewicz says the concern about photographing Madison's courthouse "doesn't make any sense to me" since, every day, thousands of people walk past. "Anybody can see it, but I can't take a picture of it?"

Besides, any terrorist wanting photos for planning purposes - not a known component of actual attacks - has other options. One website even has a detailed aerial shot of Madison's federal courthouse. Says Zytkiewicz, "You can get pictures of every side of that building without leaving your home."

The Capital Times profit picture

At last, some hard numbers.

For years, Isthmus has been estimating the profitability of Capital Newspapers by looking at the publicly available dividends to Capital Times Co. stockholders. But now, on the heels of our recent coverage, one stockholder has decided to share the privately held company's annual financial report (PDF).

It shows that in fiscal 2009, which ended Sept. 27, the Capital Times Co. had a net income of $3.3 million, including its share of profits from Capital Newspapers. This is down from nearly $8 million in 2007 and $4.4 million in 2008.

In 2008, the company maintained its usual dividends by tapping into its reserves, not because profits remained high. The Capital Times Co.'s own profitability actually increased in 2009, to more than $1.5 million, mainly due to lower costs. But the amount of revenue it's gotten as half-owner of Capital Newspapers, which owns and publishes the Capital Times, Wisconsin State Journal and other papers, has fallen from $9 million in 2005 to $2.6 million in 2009.

In an accompanying letter, Capital Times Co. board chair Jack Lussier and president Clayton Frink say changes in the newspaper and advertising industries suggest the numbers "will not return to previous levels."

Following the money

More than a few eyebrows were raised when it was pointed out, in Isthmus and elsewhere, that Gov. Jim Doyle's three picks for open Dane County judgeships last summer just happened to be the three applicants (of 28) who gave the most money to Doyle's campaigns.

But then, in early October, Doyle blocked the firing of eyebrow-raising neurons by tapping Madison lawyer Stephen Ehlke to fill a fourth seat. Ehlke has not given any money to Doyle.

Now Doyle is set to select an appellate court judge. An initial list of 11 applicants has been narrowed to three finalists: state Rep. Gary Sherman, assistant public defender Eileen Hirsch and Public Service Commission attorney Jennifer Nashold.

Among those passed up were two longtime circuit court judges and Dane County District Attorney Brian Blanchard, none of whom gave money to Doyle, according to Wisconsin Democracy Campaign's searchable database.

Nashold, it so happens, is Doyle's largest contributor among the 11 applicants, showering him with $1,350 worth of approval since 2004. But neither Hirsch nor Sherman, a Democratic lawmaker, has given money to Doyle; in fact, both are past donors to Republican Tommy Thompson!

Go figure.

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