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High court to revisit expunction, tribal transfer petitions

The Wisconsin Supreme Court plans on Thursday to again take up a nearly decade-old petition calling for online legal records to be taken down if they deal with people who were charged with a particular crime but never actually convicted.

The State Bar of Wisconsin had petitioned the court in 2009 to make a number of changes that would have let former suspects who were never deemed guilty request that their records be taken down from the Internet.

However, the justices set the petition aside to let the Legislature first take action on a number of bills dealing with related proposals. Lawmakers did adopt changes in the end, but only to the state’s current expunction statue allowing certain people convicted of misdemeanors and felonies to remove their records. In the main, the Legislature made more people eligible for expunction by modifying requirements related to their ages and criminal histories.

Absent from the changes, though, was anything intended to help those who had been charged with a crime but never convicted. With lawmakers having failed once again to gain traction with a similar proposal this past legislation session, the petition has come back in modified form to the state Supreme Court.

But the passing of so much time does not necessarily mean the chances of adoption have improved. Speaking at a State Bar Board of Governor’s meeting on April 29, Chief Justice Pat Roggensack said the proposal that has been put forward is so broad that the justices could not approve it without affecting the substantive rights of individuals. She did note, though, that a committee that has been charged with identifying changes to the Circuit Court Access Program, the state’s public access website, as a result of the state’s recent adoption of mandatory e-filing. The same committee, Roggensack suggested, might be able to take up the changes sought for online criminal records.

In another sign of Roggensack’s skepticism, the chief justice made a motion at the court’s open conference in April to dismiss the petition that would have allowed the matter to be brought before the court again. The motion failed when the justices deadlocked in a 3-3 vote. Justices Michael Gableman and Annette Ziegler backed Roggensack. Justice Rebecca Bradley, meanwhile, elected to not participate. The reason she cited was that the petition had been submitted before her appointment to the bench following Justice Patrick Crooks’ sudden death in September.

Thursday’s rules conferences could be the last in the court’s current term, which ends in July, although the justices could call for additional meetings to take up anything they are unable to consider this week. Two days in June, for instance, have been reserved for conferences that could still be scheduled.

Besides the petition concerning online criminal records, the court on Thursday also plans to take up a pair of requests related to the transfer of child-support cases from circuit court to tribal court, revisions to the rules of professional conduct for attorneys and a petition to clarify Wisconsin’s rules of professional conduct so that attorneys may discuss or write about public aspects of their closed cases.


About Erika Strebel, erika.strebel@wislawjournal.com

Erika Strebel is the law beat reporter for the Wisconsin Law Journal and a law school student at UW-Madison. She can be reached at 414-225-1825.

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