Wisconsin Debates Restricting Court Information Online


For a Wisconsin woman who was a victim of domestic abuse, it was a relief when a prosecutor dismissed an unfounded domestic battery charge against her five years ago. In the meantime, the woman lost her job, then couldn’t find another in her profession after background checks turned up the battery charge. She believes men she dated would vanish after learning her full name and, presumably, checking her out on the Wisconsin Court System’s popular Consolidated Court Automation Programs (CCAP) Web site, reports the Wisconsin State Journal.

“People make assumptions that if you’re charged with something, then you must have done something,” said the woman. Cases like hers are the motivation for proposals pending in the legislature and the state Supreme Court that would restrict access to online court records and make it easier for innocent people to expunge cases from those records. Critics say that restricting access to court records would be harmful to the public’s right to know what is going on in their courts. Peter Fox, president of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association, which opposes proposed curbs, said the public has long had an intense interest in police and court information and CCAP is instrumental in providing it. If there’s discrimination in jobs and housing that occurs because of what is found on CCAP, there are other ways to deal with that issue, he said. “Killing the messenger by restricting CCAP is not the way to do it,” Fox said. “More information is better than less information.”

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