I don't know how many of you use CCAP to check court cases for various reasons - landlord/tenant issues, foreclosures, criminal records, other civil cases. I do, and have found it invaluable for getting accurate information about properties and people.
A few months ago, many of us were researching the public records regarding the people on the sex offender registry, particularly Marc Conatty.
Well, there is legislation to inhibit public access throug CCAP - it's outlined in today's Journal Semtinel, page 3B of the Local section. Non attorney or court personnel users would be charged a fee of $10.00 per year. More seriously, certain accurate and otherwise public information would be deliberately kept off CCAP - evictions couldn't be posted until/unless they went to judgment and only criminal convictions - not charges or the preconviction record of proceedings - could be entered on the electronic record.
The main sponsor of the legislation, Rep. Marlin Schneider, was on public radio this morning openly proclaiming he wanted to stop "nosy neighbors" from "snooping".
Unfortunately (in my view) various well meaning representatives of low income people have joined up with Schneider to limit public access through CCAP, claiming that the access allows employers and landlords to discriminate unfairly against the innocent. Schneider's bill would require that "hits" be tracked back to the person seeking access and that failing to tell a prospective tenant or employee that you had used CCAP could result in a $1,000.00 fine. Talk about a chilling effect...
I think this is terrible legislation - we pay for the justice system, including CCAP. We have a right to know what is in the public record - the FULL public record. If this bill passes and is signed by the governor, large firms will pay people to go look at the "real" records at the courthouse, while the rest of the people will have censored records.
I'm a lawyer, and I'd still have access to CCAP without a fee. And I can always make a trip back to my old stomping grounds at the courthouse. But it's the "cleansing" of the records that really upsets me because it undermines the integrity of the public record. Further, it's well known that most criminal cases in Milwaukee are plea bargained - knowing the original charge can be important, and relevant.
And I think nosy neighbors are what keeps neighborhoods safer.
If you are concerned, write our state representative, Tamara Grigsby, and our state senator, Spencer Coggs. I wrote to Tamara Grigsby when the news of this bill surfaced a few weeks ago, but I haven't had a reply. Based on past conversations with her aide, I think Rep. Grigsby probably disagrees with my open records stance. But she knowsd I vote... I fear our representatives will succumb to the "protect the innocent" push unless there is a strong countevailing push from those of us who value public access to public records through CCAP.
A lobbyist for the State Bar once told me never to underestimate the importance of constituent contacts - legislators get almost no letters or communications from anyone besides lobbyists and interest groups. When they do, they sit up and take some notice.
Don't bother writing Marlin Schneider - he's not our representative and he's a longtime privacy absolutist. But it might be helpful to have your friends in surrounding districts write their reps. If they don't know who their rpe/senator is, just "google" Wisconsin Legislature", and you'll get a directory complete with e-mail links.