A bill introduced in the state Legislature this month is intended to protect consumers, but would limit Wisconsin’s ability to fairly report businesses’ litigation history.
Assembly Bill 520, introduced Nov. 22 by Rep. Duey Stroebel, R-Saukville, would require court officials to, eight years after a judgment is paid in full, remove information about a civil case from the publicly accessible Wisconsin Circuit Court Access website, which is commonly referred to as Consolidated Court Automation Programs or CCAP.
Stroebel said the idea came from a constituent who was concerned that a civil case he had more than a decade ago was still affecting his credit rating.
Under federal law, judgments paid in full do not factor into one’s credit rating after seven years. Stroebel said he envisioned his proposal as an additional safeguard.
“[There are] a lot of people out there who have experienced problems,” he said. “You have taken care of your obligation … why should there be something that’s a blemish hanging out there for you?”
But attorney Gordon Leech, of the Consumer & Employment Law Center of Wisconsin SC, said the proposal could harm consumers because it also would apply to businesses, allowing companies to “misrepresent their history” of court cases. Federal law protecting consumers from unfair credit reporting practices does not apply to businesses, he said.
“In effect,” Leech said, “it shields businesses from the discovery of adverse financial information that they don’t have under any other law.”
Stroebel, however, said the bill, as proposed, would ensure an “eight-year history of everyone out there.” That window still could give consumers a good idea, he said, of a company or person’s history in court.
“I think that would be adequate,” Stroebel said, “to make some types of judgments [about] someone’s practices.”
The representative added hard copies of case files would be maintained in the originating county. Unlike recent proposals involving expunction of hard copies, which often require a judge’s approval, Stroebel’s bill just would remove the cases from CCAP.
His bill is one of several introduced this session that deal with removing court records from CCAP. Most of the other proposals focus on criminal cases, however.
The idea of separating paper and digital records has been a sticking point with the courts system in the past. Director of State Courts John Voelker has said he is in favor of discussing expunction proceedings, but is opposed to legislation that calls for keeping different sets of records.
Stroebel said he wants the bill to get a hearing early next year in the Committee on Judiciary. He expected a fiscal estimate to be complete next week.
The bill hasn’t yet been introduced in the Senate, though Sens. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee and Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, are listed as sponsors.