"When it comes to limiting the public's access to records in Wisconsin, it's a bipartisan effort.
Last summer, Democratic state Reps. Marlin Schneider of Wisconsin Rapids and Fred Kessler of Milwaukee proposed shutting off access to the state's online court records to most members of the public. Only court officials, law enforcement personnel, attorneys and journalists would have had unlimited access to the Consolidated Court Automation Programs Web site.
This winter, it's Republican state Rep. Robin Vos of Racine and Democrat state Sen. Julie Lassa of Stevens Point who want to limit access to the Web site by removing certain cases from the electronic record. Their effort is just as well-intentioned as the effort last summer - and just as wrongheaded.
Companion proposals by Vos and Lassa would have state officials remove cases or charges involving a civil forfeiture or misdemeanor from the Web site within 90 days after being notified that the case or charge has been dismissed, the defendant has been found not guilty of all of the charges or the case or charge has been overturned on appeal and dismissed. In the case of felonies, the case or charge would be removed within 120 days after officials had been notified that one of the above had happened.
As Peter Fox of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association put it in an e-mail, the proposals are poor public policy. "For one thing, the WCCA site is intended to reflect the actual record of Wisconsin courts, not excerpts thereof," he wrote. "Essentially, this proposal would create two 'sets of books.' "