Guest views: Legislators, keep your hands off CCAP

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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Once again, a misguided effort is afoot in the state Legislature to gut the state's online court records system known as CCAP.

Lawmakers involved should resist what seems to be an incessant urge to tinker with a useful and successful system.

The Consolidated Court Automation Program is a vital online database of civil and criminal cases filed in the circuit courts in Wisconsin; it includes detailed information about the parties involved in the cases, their attorneys, documents filed, decisions and outcomes of cases.

Six Democrats want to limit that flow of information. Assembly Bill 253 and its companion, Senate Bill 234, were introduced by state Reps. Evan Goyke, Madison; Melissa Sargent, Madison; Fred Kessler, Milwaukee; Gary Hebl, Sun Prairie; Sondy Pope, Cross Plains; and state Senate co-sponsor Lena Taylor, Milwaukee.

Proponents argue that some use CCAP records to discriminate against people on employment and housing, but there are other ways to deal with that very legitimate concern short of editing records that are by their very nature public.

This iteration of the effort to limit CCAP would hide from the public any new court case that didn't lead to a finding of criminal guilt or civil liability. It also would provide a way to purge past data. Easy access to such court records would be gone, handicapping citizens seeking information.

The bill would set up a shadow system with complete information that would be available to a select few—judges, court workers, law enforcement, journalists, Realtors, bill collectors, landlords.

Bill Lueders, president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, plans to testify against the bill at an Assembly Judiciary Committee hearing on Thursday. He notes in an email that the bill would “rob the public of the ability to use the system to monitor wrongful prosecutions and serial litigators.”

He's right, and among our other concerns: In the age of Twitter, who is a journalist? And who is going to decide? The Legislature? Public records are public records, says Lueders.

In the interest of transparency and to protect anyone involved in litigation, leave CCAP alone.

—The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

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