This article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel describes a legislative move to exempt judges and district attorneys from those public officials whose economic interest statements would be posted on the Internet, in a bill meant to increase transparency. While the overall bill would still be an improvement, this provision in predicated on the assumption that certain categories of public officials are especially vulnerable to harassment of the sort that can be cured only by limiting access to public information. It is a very questionable assumption.
One of the proponents of this change, Rep. Fred Kessler, a former judge, says judges are routinely harassed and threatened by people who appear before them. I would question, first of all, if this is generally true, for judges and DAs statewide. And I would note that these alleged threats and acts if harassment are apparently occurring even without members of the public being able to get the economic interest statements of these officials online. Finally, there may be some more appropriate remedy that prosecutors and judges have regarding people who harass and threaten them.
And then there’s the likelihood of mission creep. There are doubtless cases where members of the public have picked on other public officials, including state legislators. Should they be exempt from this disclosure too?
I urge our members to consider reporting and editorializing on this provision. No one wants to put judges and prosecutors in peril, but the logic of this exclusion is elusive.