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MADISON - Deputy Attorney General Raymond Taffora, on behalf of Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen and the Wisconsin Department of Justice, submitted comments to the Supreme Court today urging it to reject a proposal by the State Bar of Wisconsin to amend the Supreme Court's rules to allow for greater expunction of criminal convictions and charges. Expunction has the effect of sealing and then destroying a court's public records relating to a criminal case, removing all references of the expunged case from Wisconsin Consolidated Court Access (the public Internet site displaying court records), and may have collateral consequences on subsequent legal actions that depend on prior convictions, such as penalty enhancers and offenses with graduated penalties based on prior convictions.
The Wisconsin Department of Justice's opposition to the newly proposed court rules is based on public policy arguments that support the right to open court records and concern that the judiciary lacks the inherent authority to expunge records in a manner inconsistent with existing statutes passed by the legislature.
The State Bar's memorandum in support of its petition argued the rule is necessary because public court records can be misinterpreted or misunderstood, causing the individual identified in the record to face a "negative credential" that "can easily be misunderstood or misused by landlords, license providers and employers."
In response, Deputy Attorney General Taffora wrote, "There is an inherent risk that people will misuse or misinterpret information from public records, or even information that is simply in the public domain. It is therefore not surprising that those seeking to limit access to public records can provide anecdotal evidence to support their objectives. But this is a risk our free society is willing to take."
The Wisconsin Supreme Court has scheduled a public hearing on the proposed rule to occur on February 24, 2010 at 9:30 a.m.
A full copy of the Wisconsin Department of Justice's comments on the petition is available at