— From the Wausau Daily Herald
Here’s a bipartisan bill that ought to go no further — proof that members of both parties are perfectly capable of being wrong when it comes to ensuring free and open access to public records.
Senate Bill 526 would remove from the state’s online public records database all records that do not lead to convictions or are overturned on appeal. Direct access to these public, taxpayer-funded proceedings would vanish — and with it the legitimate window it gives members of the public on how the courts operate.
The bill passed in a Senate committee 5-0 and could be taken up by the full Senate.
Lawmakers should stop this bill in its tracks.
The Wisconsin Consolidated Courts Automation Programs website, commonly known as CCAP, is intended to be much more than simply a record of criminal convictions. It is intended to be a record of the workings of the courts. It includes charging information, motions filed in court and eventual pleas or convictions.
All of this information is public for a reason. We don’t believe in secret trials in America, and we don’t accept the argument that the public should not be trusted with accurate, detailed information about the workings of the justice system.
The presumption of innocence is extremely important. False charges happen, and no one should assume that simply appearing in court is equivalent to being convicted of a crime.
Luckily, there already are laws against employer discrimination on the basis of charges that aren’t specifically related to the job. And there already are broad disclaimers built into CCAP that notify users of when a charge did not end in conviction.
In short, the site works well, providing useful information to the public about the courts we pay for and depend on. Don’t take that transparency away.