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View from around the state: Leave CCAP alone

— From the Wisconsin State Journal

State lawmakers are again second-guessing Wisconsin’s online database for court records.

They should just leave CCAP alone. The free and popular website is working well after years of planning, input and some adjustments.

If certain court records are being misunderstood or misused by the public, as some lawmakers contend, the answer is to provide more information, not less.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, made news last week by suggesting the public website popularly known as CCAP should hide more of its data from public view.

“If you were charged and found not guilty, I think after a certain period of time that shouldn’t be on CCAP,” Vos told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

That sounds reasonable. But hiding records that show not-guilty verdicts could mask other problems affecting the public, such as over-aggressive prosecutors.

And if a suspect is exonerated at trial, hiding that information could make it harder for the wrongly accused to demonstrate innocence to potential employers or landlords. That’s especially true if lots of news coverage of the charges still pop up on Internet searches.

Vos and other lawmakers fear bogus charges or long resolved lawsuits may unfairly tar the reputations of innocent people. Maybe.

But state leaders should have more faith in the public to understand that not-guilty verdicts mean a person is presumed innocent. In fact, the CCAP website — wcca.wicourts.gov — emphatically states as much. It also includes a prominent disclaimer to employers, warning them it’s illegal to discriminate against job applicants who were arrested or charged in the past unless a conviction substantially relates to the job being sought.

If those explanations on CCAP aren’t prominent or clear enough, make them bigger and simpler so they’re perfectly understandable.

But don’t scrub Wisconsin’s online court database of so much information that the site becomes inaccurate by omission. CCAP already keeps confidential such documents as adoptions, juvenile delinquency, child protection, termination of parental rights, guardianship and civil commitments.

Wisconsin’s court system has carefully balanced privacy rights with the public’s right to know. Hastily upsetting that delicate balance would be a mistake.

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