The name of a Madison tenant whose landlord dismissed an eviction lawsuit against her should be removed from online court records, the Court of Appeals has ruled.
Though some judges around the state have been ordering online redactions in dozens of similar cases since 2017, the new decision could serve as a green light for all courts to follow suit.
Advocates for low-income renters applauded the move.
“It’s certainly a big deal,” said Rafael Ramos, director of the Eviction Project in Milwaukee County. “It confirms what we always believed to be the authority of the court.”
Korey Lundin represented Denice Morgan, the tenant who sought to redact her name. His office, Legal Action of Wisconsin, represents many other low-income renters facing evictions and the impact even dismissed eviction actions have on their efforts to find new housing.
Lundin said Legal Action has encountered other judges reluctant to order changes to the Consolidated Court Automation Program—the state’s online court records system commonly known as CCAP—without specific statutory authority or an appellate court ruling, which now exists.
“But it’s something we’d ask for only on a case-by-case basis,” he said. “They don’t all justify it.”
Lundin also noted that many tenants go to eviction court without a lawyer, and that thousands of dismissed or denied evictions still remain on CCAP.
Morgan lives in a subsidized apartment for the disabled. Her landlord filed to evict her last year based on some illegal activity of other people. After the suit was dismissed with prejudice and she was allowed to remain in the apartment, Morgan asked Dane County Circuit Judge Frank Remington to remove her name from the case as it appears in CCAP.
That’s because many landlords use CCAP to quickly screen potential tenants and often refuse to consider anyone who has been sued for eviction in the past, even if the landlord lost or the case was dismissed.
Remington agreed the online record could make it harder for Morgan to find a new place in the future, even stating that if he were king for a day, he would change the rules about public access to certain court records.
But Remington said he didn’t believe he had the authority, via a statute or case law, to grant her request.
Morgan appealed. Her landlord didn’t oppose the redaction, so the Court of Appeals substituted the Dane County Circuit Court as the respondent in Morgan’s appeal.
The state Department of Justice, representing the circuit court, argued that Remington was correct.
“Court records are open to public inspection, and although there are limited exceptions to that rule, no exception applies here,” it argued in its brief.
The state said that while judges can seal or redact records in the files of cases before them, they don’t have authority over the state’s CCAP website.
Morgan’s concern of her name being part of the eviction record, it states, is really just for her reputation, not her safety.
Lastly, the court argued that Morgan should direct what it considered a public policy argument to the Legislature, not the courts.
The Court of Appeals sided with Morgan. Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg concluded that courts’ inherent authority “to limit public access to judicial records when the administration of justice requires it” gives them the power to redact tenants’ names from CCAP records of some failed evictions, including Morgan’s.
Morgan wasn’t asking that her name be removed from the actual court file, only from the CCAP record of the case. The public can still inspect the details of her case and how it was handled, Kloppenburg found, so redacting only the CCAP entry was “the least restrictive means” to address her concern.
Kloppenburg also disagreed that Morgan’s concern was only about reputation. Being able to find safe housing in the future would directly affect her safety, she found.
Department of Justice lawyers also argued that Morgan’s argument is really one of policy better directed to the Legislature, not the courts.
The Legislature has discussed restricting or limiting what information stays on CCAP for how long. But it was a committee that in 2017 made recommendations already adopted by the Office of State Courts early last year.
Dismissed evictions—as well as dismissed or acquitted criminal cases, and denied or dismissed petitions for injunctions over domestic abuse and harassment—are now automatically removed from CCAP after two years.
A bridge that joins the east and west sides of Janesville’s downtown will continue to be out for at least nine more weeks, a project engineer estimated.
The contract for replacing the Milwaukee Street bridge originally required the work be done by June 21.
Now, the city, state and contractor are negotiating a new end date after delays caused by long periods of high water, said Alex Bromley, engineering consultant with Westbrook Associated Engineers.
Bromley said a date has not been set, but he guessed the bridge would be closed for “at least a month” after June 21.
Mike Payne of the city engineering staff said Monday the state and contractor still were discussing the new project end date, so it was hard to say when the bridge will open.
Downtown business owner Alicia Reid said she recently heard from a city official, who said he couldn’t predict when the bridge would be done.
“We are SO looking forward to having it back,” said Reid, who runs Raven’s Wish art gallery, one block west of the bridge.
Kevin Riley of Riley’s Sports Bar & Grill said a lot of regulars have stopped coming to his tavern because they used to walk across the bridge from Main Street, just across the river.
Now, they walk to a more convenient bar or find a different place for lunch, Riley said.
“It’s going to be a problem, but we’ve budgeted for it, so we’re going to be fine,” Riley said.
The $5.7 million bridge project began Oct. 1. Officials said in November high water was delaying work because barges could not fit under the old bridge spans. The barges were intended to haul away sections of the old bridge.
High water continued to cause problems this spring. Water spilled into cofferdams so fast that pumps couldn’t keep up, Bromley said.
Cofferdams are structures that allow workers to work below the waterline. In this case, cofferdams allow workers to build bridge supports below the streambed, Bromley said.
Right now, the water is low enough to allow work to continue, Bromley said.
After the new end date is set, the contractor, Zenith Tech of Waukesha, would be penalized about $2,000 a day if the bridge is not completed by that date, Bromley said.
However, Bromley said if the river rose again, a new, revised date might have to be set.
The river level at which problems begin is flood stage at the Rock River gauge at Afton, Bromley said. Flood stage at the gauge is 9 feet. The gauge on Monday was at 8 feet with the National Weather Service predicting the level will start dropping Wednesday.
Payne said drivers seem to be well trained to use the bridges located a few blocks to the north and south—the Court Street and Centerway bridges—to get to west-side businesses.
West Milwaukee Street business owners seem upbeat, even though the area continues to be the home to vacant open storefronts.
And Riley noted city plans to rebuild West Milwaukee Street in the near future, so the opening of the bridge might be just a reprieve before another downtown- renewal project gets in the way of business.
But Reid pointed to the recent news that Blackhawk Community Credit Union is looking to locate its “legacy center” honoring former General Motors works in the former First National Bank/Chase Bank. Also, the new Cobblestone Hotel and Suites should open sometime this year.
And, of course, the nearby ARISE Town Square development is another source of hope.
“We have a lot of good things happening downtown,” Reid said.
Jackie Lynn Davis-Franklin
Allan G. Decker
Lily C. Lance
Jesus (Jesse or Chuy) Rodriguez
Joseph Matthew Stier
Robert D. Sullivan
Virginia J. Tratt
Mary Van Dyke
Gwen Ellen Zanzinger
The second floor of the Janesville Woman’s Club building houses one of the city’s hidden gems.
Accessible by a semicircular staircase, the focal point of this level is a midsize art gallery featuring a few dozen paintings and other works of art. The gallery is just a few blocks from the new features along the downtown riverfront, but it’s a space not many in Janesville have visited.
So the substantial landscaping project underway at the club serves a dual purpose: beautify the grounds of this nearly 100-year-old building and call attention to the gallery and service organizations inside.
The work is also a prelude to the building’s 100th anniversary in 2028.
The building, 108 S. Jackson St., is home to five groups—the Woman’s Club, the MacDowell Music Club, the Daughters of the American Revolution, the American Association of University Women and the Janesville Art League, which oversees the second-floor gallery.
Restoring the grounds and making other interior improvements is a way to cement those groups’ places in local history and to maintain their commitment to community service, said Ann Roe, the current president of the building’s nonprofit preservation foundation.
At a time when women had just recently acquired the right to vote, women took charge in the building’s construction, she said.
A woman Roe knows only as Ms. Macloon donated the land.
George Parker and his wife, Martha, donated the first $10,000 as a challenge to Woman’s Club members. Those women eventually raised the bulk of the money needed to give the club a stately, Federalist-style home, Roe said.
Volunteers and some RECAP workers from the county jail helped manicure the grounds Monday. Freshly planted hostas and new mulch surround O.V. Shaffer’s sculpture, “Wings of Change.”
The sculpture was installed years ago, but it was partially obstructed by overgrown bushes and needed new bricks underneath it, said Pat Phillips, who has led the grounds restoration and taken charge of its fundraising.
The area around the sculpture is the first part of a four-phase project. The volunteers will hold a ceremony Thursday to celebrate the start of the second phase, which will focus on the main entrance.
Other areas of focus include the building’s perimeter and lighting around the grounds, Phillips said.
The landscaping is projected to cost about $26,000, and the club has a few thousand dollars left to raise, she said.
The outdoor project comes at a time when the building is also undergoing interior fixes. Roe said cracks in the foundation have led to some water damage, and some tuck-pointing problems have caused paneling in the art gallery to split. The work inside is expected to cost about $40,000.
Doing major projects outdoors and indoors has stretched a tight budget, but Roe credited Phillips with spearheading funding efforts. Phillips has successfully applied for grants, negotiated cost savings with local businesses and encouraged other community groups to donate, Roe said.
Despite the centennial celebration being nearly a decade from now, the organizations that share the Woman’s Club building wanted to start early. They wanted to make sure the projects would be finished, and they didn’t expect such immediate generosity, she said.
The red brick Woman’s Club building and its four soaring white columns might not fit the model of other downtown projects, but it’s an icon worth preserving along the edges of downtown and the Fourth Ward, Roe said.
“It was built by women, essentially, for women’s groups at the time,” she said. “I think that’s huge. Its sustained, continued history of community service while also providing fellowship for women and various groups is the other reason.
“It’s continuously in use. It’s never been closed. It’s never taken a break.”