In the old days, such as those in the Snuffy Smith cartoon, the town gossip and local information was passed over the backyard fence. Then as times progressed the best news came from the ‘party lines’ that most every home was hooked up with for a period of time. Now it is the internet and a variety of sites that allow for public dissemination of news and public information.
While there is a difference between gossip and public records, I admit the line, at times, can be thin. But having said that, there is still an overriding and just concern about the right of the public to have unfettered access to open court records. One such site that provides for this type of information becoming public in an easy manner has come under attack recently by some in the Wisconsin State Legislature.
Representative Marlin Schneider, a longtime champion of privacy issues, is just wrong to suggest that the public isn’t capable of using the circuit court records in a responsible way. The system is known as Consolidated Court Automation Programs (CCAP) and for now is open for all to view. At a public hearing this month most everyone who testified argued that it should remain open to the public. Only those who think the public is irresponsible thought CCAP needed to be limited in who had access to the records.
The reason the public has a right to this information is most obvious. These are open public documents that belong to us! The Wisconsin Rapids Democrat should not prevail in his attempt to stifle the flow of information in order to shelter some, and thwart others from easily obtaining information.
I used the system to quickly evaluate applicants for a mentorship program at a non-profit in Madison. A lady friend of mine used the system to check out potential dates. I might add since I think she does not read my blog, that the guys she didn’t see do not know how lucky they are! But for whatever reason, the site serves a purpose, and needs to remain open to the public.
Marlin Schneider, in this case, has too little faith in the public. I think most Wisconsinites understand how to use the system. I think most people are not looking for ways to discriminate against their neighbors, or harbor misconceived ideas about those who appear on the site.
For the record I was on the site once for speeding. Real fast. Not my finest day, but I would not want my record kept secret as I know the public has a right to view such documents. (Though I still think the balding overweight three-thumbed Deputy Sheriff in Waushara County wanted to make a point with a guy from Madison. If that is what he needed, I was happy to oblige.) The record has since been removed due to the time factor.
The system (CCAP) has worked well and need not be undermined by a politician with perhaps too little to do while serving in the minority. Even if the public only looks at the site for gossip is not enough reason to lock public records up.