State Rep. Robin Vos (R-Racine) is hoping to restrict the public's ability to easily track circuit court activity regarding criminal cases. He's now seeking cosponsors for a bill that would purge the state's online database -- commonly called CCAP (but more accurately WCCA) -- of information about cases which lead to a dismissal or not-guilty verdict, or which are overturned on appeal.
The measure, if passed, would make it harder for reporters and others to research wrongful prosecutions that result in acquittal or dismissal. And it would in some situations block public access to arguably useful information -- for instance, that a particular applicant for a child-care job has been criminally charged with molesting children a half-dozen times but has always managed to get acquitted.
And while the proposed bill says all charges must be dismissed, or lead to acquittal, for the charges to disappear, will anyone be surprised if people charged with multiple crimes -- like, say, Brian Burke or Chuck Chvala -- seek removal of those counts that were dismissed as part of their plea bargains?
Finally, Vos' bill plays into the myth that the only way people can be protected from misuse of public records -- such as their illegal use to deny employment or housing -- is to block access to those public records.
In fact, there will always be ways for interested parties to obtain and traffic in this information -- without the ability to correct errors provided by the current system. And the only real way to combat illegal discrimination is to enforce the law.
As former Taylor County Judge Gary Carlson likes to say, "Privacy is dead -- deal with it."
Bill Lueders is news editor of Isthmus and president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council. He served on a Legislative Council committee on a related issue that was headed by Rep. Vos in 2006.