The Assembly Criminal Justice Committee today heard testimony on AB-340 (attached), Rep. Marlin Schneider’s latest effort to destroy WCCA, the state’s online circuit court records system. The bill would prohibit WCCA (commonly and incorrectly called CCAP) from displaying information about criminal cases that do not lead to convictions or civil lawsuits that do not lead to findings of liability. It would also require most public users to register with the government and pay a $10 annual fee to access what records remain, possibly with a way of tracking what records they obtain. I stayed for more than three hours, and testified (remarks attached) but my strong sense it that this is a bill with legs. I think it might receive a favorable recommendation from the committee, despite opposition from the Council, WNA, WBA, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the Wisconsin Apartment Association and the Attorney General’s Office.
The constantly reiterated message was that the system is widely abused to illegally discriminate against people in employment and housing, even when they are found not guilty of charges against them, or the subject of improper and unsuccessful eviction proceedings, and that the only solution is to prevent people from knowing these things have occurred. At one point, in a rambling statement, an aide to Rep. Schneider, Cynthia Kieper, actually said: “AB-340 should be presented to the Legislature to stop this notion that the public has a right to every record.” You can get it off the Wisconsin Eye feed, at about 1 p.m., or three hours after the meeting began.
Obviously, WCCA is an important component of open records in Wisconsin and this is a serious threat. I would urge our members and supporters to weigh in on this matter editorially or report on it. Two story ideas come to mind:
To look at what would happen, county by county, if this bill passes. How many clerk of courts offices are prepared to handle the additional workload that would be created if online access to these records is blocked? And second, to report on the specific anecdotes offered to the committee for its consideration. Rep. Schneider, in his testimony at the start of the hearing, offered several.
My sense it that, despite some problems, the state’s experience with easy access to court records has been a success. That’s what Kevin St. John of the AG’s Office said in his testimony, and it’s a point we all need to make — loudly and clearly.