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Corporation Counsel, Representing the State in Cases Involving Children in Need of Protective Services and Termination of Parental Rights May Not Have Unrestricted Access to WCCA Juvenile Court Case Records

 

MADISON – Responding to an inquiry from A. John Voelker, the Director of State Courts, Attorney General J. B. Van Hollen issued a formal opinion concerning whether corporation counsel, who represent the public interest in cases involving children in need of protective services (CHIPS) and termination of parental rights (TPR), may have access to related case information in the restricted juvenile court records area of the Wisconsin Circuit Court Access (WCCA) System. The issue arises because the administration of the juvenile justice system requires protecting the confidentiality of juvenile records, see Wis. Stat. §§ 48.396(2)(a)m, 48.396(5)(d), and 938.396(1j); State ex rel. Herget v. Waukesha Co. Cir. Ct., 84 Wis. 2d 435, 450-452, 267 N.W.2d 309 (1978), and because, due to technical limitations, the WCCA restricted juvenile court records area includes all CHIPS and TPR cases including privately-filed cases in which the public is not a party.

 

Although Attorney General Van Hollen expressed faith that corporation counsel could be trusted to limit their review of WCCA records only to cases in which they represent the public interest, and although he encouraged the Director of State Courts to pursue appropriate programming changes in WCCA to permit corporation counsel access to juvenile court records consistent with the statutory limitations (because it would improve the effective and efficient performance of their duties), Attorney General Van Hollen concluded that the juvenile justice statutes cannot be interpreted to provide corporation counsel unlimited access to WCCA juvenile court records where the general rule is confidentiality and where disclosure is the exception granted only after a fact-specific, case-by-case analysis.

 

Attorney General Van Hollen noted that since the implementation of the WCCA, attorneys representing the public interest in juvenile cases have sought access to WCCA restricted juvenile court records. On four separate occasions between 2000 and 2006, assistant attorneys general had concluded the juvenile justice statutes precluded access to the restricted area of the WCCA except for protective service workers who were part of the juvenile court system. Indeed, in 2006, an assistant attorney general concurred in the conclusion of a Consolidated Court Automation Program (“CCAP”) steering committee that corporation counsel could not be granted access to the restricted juvenile court records area of WCCA because there was no method by which the WCCA could permit corporation counsel access only to their cases and not to cases that were privately-filed and involved private attorneys.

Attorney General Van Hollen concluded that permitting corporation counsel access to restricted WCCA juvenile court files would violate the statutory limitation that only information necessary to meet a specific need may be disclosed and then only on a case-by-case basis.

 

A copy of the opinion is available at:
http://www.doj.state.wi.us/ag/opinions/OAG-7-10.pdf

A copy of the original request for the opinion is available at:
http://www.doj.state.wi.us/ag/opinions/OAG-7-10_Request.pdf

 

Formal and informal opinions issued by Attorney General Van Hollen are available at:
http://www.doj.state.wi.us/ag/opinions/opinions.asp