State Rep. Evan Goyke is acting on his assumption that Wisconsin residents are a simple bunch so swayed by gossip that they cannot be trusted with basic court records.
The Milwaukee Democrat has positioned himself as the defender of those records, arguing the public is not sophisticated enough to handle full access to the Wisconsin Circuit Court Access website, better known as the Consolidated Court Automation Program or CCAP.
“The information is too good,” Goyke said, “too juicy.”
Goyke is leading a handful of Wisconsin legislators in trying to restrict public access to CCAP. In June, Goyke and state Reps. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison; Frederick Kessler, D-Milwaukee; Gary Hebl, D-Sun Prairie; and Sondy Pope, D-Cross Plains; proposed a bill that, among other things, would let defendants who are found not guilty request that their case information be removed from CCAP.
State Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, introduced the Senate version of the bill in July.
Particularly troubling is that the bill also would remove information about pending cases and leave the details only when defendants are evicted, found guilty of a criminal charge, found liable in a civil matter, or had a restraining order or injunction issued against them.
The bill would create a second database, with details of all cases, for “sophisticated CCAP users,” Goyke said, such as court employees, law enforcement officers, attorneys, journalists, debt collectors, real estate workers, landlords, and those who prepare title reports or work for financial institutions.
Apparently, the guidelines on CCAP are not good enough for Goyke. The online database shows whether a case is pending or dismissed. The website makes it clear that employers cannot discriminate against a job applicant because of an arrest or conviction record.
Certainly, some people ignore those guidelines. They fail to respect a person’s right to innocence until proven guilty. They use CCAP information irresponsibly.
But that does not give lawmakers such as Goyke an excuse to violate the public’s right to know, even if those lawmakers hold the public in such low regard.
“Folks that are not sophisticated with the system and the legal system,” Goyke said, “are drawing conclusions about a person’s character based on CCAP entries.”
Goyke fails to understand that he is making the same mistake he is trying to prevent. He is drawing conclusions about the character of the people who read CCAP.
Worse, he is compounding his error by acting on it.