As the Legislature boils its way toward the end of its session, one of the more worrisome bills still in the mix is one that would drastically reduce the amount of information that is provided to the public in the state’s online court records system known as CCAP.
Senate Bill 526, which is being pushed by state Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, would throw a shroud of secrecy over the state’s court system and purge records of court proceedings when charges against an individual are dismissed or led to a finding of not guilty. In essence, all that would be left is a record of convictions — unless the public wants to take the time to travel to whatever county to check the physical records that would still be available.
Under such a system every district attorney in every county would have a perfect conviction rate as far as anyone viewing court records online would see.
Grothman’s proposal is reminiscent of the courtroom scene in the movie “A Few Good Men” when Jack Nicholson, in the role of Guantanamo base commander Col. Nathan Jessup, is cross-examined by Tom Cruise, who demands the truth. Nicholson screams back: “You can’t handle the truth.”
We believe Wisconsin residents can handle the truth — the whole truth — of what is happening in the state court system. Not just the convictions, but the record of not guilty verdicts and cases that are dismissed as well.
Proponents of the CCAP change argue that innocent people could be discriminated against in jobs and housing, but there is scant record of that and it is already against the law in Wisconsin. The “solution” is not to purge records from the online court system — it is to keep a full and open record of court proceedings available.
That is why there is a long list of those who oppose the Senate bill from all sides of the political spectrum. It includes Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, the state clerk of courts association, the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, Common Cause in Wisconsin, the director of state courts and the MacIver Institute.
Bill Lueders of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council wrote this week, “The idea driving this bill is that ordinary citizens lack the intelligence or decency to make rational judgments about cases in which charges are dismissed or a defendant has been found not guilty. The people of Wisconsin deserve more credit than that.”
We agree and we hope the Legislature comes to that conclusion as well and rejects this bill that would undercut the usefulness of CCAP and give state residents only a partial view of court proceedings.
Wisconsin residents can handle the truth.
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