The Wisconsin Circuit Court Access website, a database of Wisconsin court records, underwent a number of changes last month following complaints from users.
Key changes to the site — commonly referred to as the Consolidated Court Automation Program or CCAP — include a glossary of legal terms, a caution to employers regarding job discrimination, a decrease in the amount of time certain records remain public and an executive summary page. The changes are part of an effort to address complaints of misinterpretations of court records.
Dane County Clerk of Courts Judith Coleman said the Milwaukee County Circuit received most of the criticism, which spurred the changes. But she noted reaction to the changes has been limited, as she has only addressed one complaint about them so far.
Sarah Gunn, criminal division administrator in the Milwaukee County Circuit Court, said she has received some positive feedback but mainly from Milwaukee's internal staff.
"It is too soon to tell what the ultimate impact is going to be, but any feedback that I've heard has been positive," Gunn said.
Central to the alterations are the "executive summaries," which aim to aid site users in deciphering case information.
The new page appears before the details of a case can be accessed in order to provide a clear and succinct synopsis and to avoid confusion or misinterpretation. The page now shows whether a person was found guilty, not guilty or whether the case is still pending or dismissed.
Before the addition of the executive summary page, the final results of a case seemed ambiguous to the user, Gunn said.
"The ultimate dismissal or amendment to a misdemeanor was much more difficult to find before the executive summary page," she said. "People would look at a charge and make assumptions and decisions because of that."
John Barrett, clerk of the circuit court for Milwaukee County and a member of the WCCA oversight committee, was involved with the website from its inception.
"You oftentimes have people who are not familiar with court terminology, with court procedure and process. What happens is they misread what is there," Barrett said. "What we want to do is make sure that people accurately read what has transpired in a court proceeding."
WCCA was first implemented in April 1999 "in response to an increasing number of requests for court records from district attorneys, sheriffs' departments and other court business partners," according to the WCCA oversight committee on their website.
The committee — which includes clerks of courts, judges, lawyers, police, state legislators, technology experts, court staff and members of the media — reported the site has since gained enormous popularity among citizens across the state and now averages about one million data requests per day.
Overall, Gunn expects the WCCA changes to be positive, particularly the executive summary.
"We're anticipating it's going to be very helpful to the public and to the employers," Gunn said. "And it just gives a snapshot of what they need to know before they go into the case detail."
Barrett noted the WCCA oversight committee will continue to meet periodically to make certain the site is being used accurately, fairly and appropriately, adding he believes the fewer responses they receive regarding the site's changes, the better.
"Ideally, there would be no reaction," he said.