When Senator Marlin Schneider lost re-election a few years ago, I thought that the attacks against Wisconsin’s Consolidated Court Automation Programs (CCAP) would disappear. Well they did — for a while. But Senator Lena Taylor along with Representatives Goyke, Sargent, Kessler, Hebl and Pope haven taken up the torch and are trying to prevent the public from accessing CCAP once again via Senate Bill 234/Assembly Bill 253.
These two bills were introduced on July 31, 2013, and if passed will negatively affect access to “open records” in the following ways:
1. Two separate CCAP databases would be created. One for a privileged few and another with less information for the general public. The current CCAP database would only be available for judges, court commissioners, other court, state, local, agency employees, law enforcement and law enforcement employees, lawyers, journalists, licensed debt collectors, employees for financial institutions, and realtors — and landlords (see below correction note). A second more restrictive database would be available for everyone else.
2. The more restrictive database accessible by the general public would only provide case information after a court has done one of the following: (1) made a finding that a person is guilty of a criminal charge, (2) made a finding that a person is liable in a civil matter, (3) ordered a judgement of eviction, or (4) issued a restraining order or injunction. If one of those 4 things did not yet happen — the general public will not even be able to access that information.
3. All information related to a criminal or civil case in which a finding or order related to the case or charge is reopened, vacated, set aside, or overturned on appeal, would be removed from the more restrictive CCAP database.
4. If a user searches for a person’s name on CCAP and then denies that person employment, housing, or another public accommodation, the user must inform the person that a CCAP search was performed on them. Failure to tell the person could result in a $1,000 fine.
5. Upon receipt of a written request, the Director of State Courts must remove from the general public database, any information relating to a case if there was no finding of criminal guilt or civil liability, order of eviction, or issuance of a restraining order, or if the finding or order was subsequently reopened, vacated, set aside, or overturned.
What does this mean to landlords and property managers? ————— See correction note at end of post.
Short Answer: You will have a much more difficult time screening any prospective tenants. And as a result of being able to review only select information you may end up renting to someone that you otherwise would not have, resulting in increased costs to you such as eviction costs, damage to your property, lost rent.
You will be unable to learn about any pending criminal cases, eviction cases, money judgment cases, restraining orders, that an applicant might have pending until the case is concluded and has resulted in a judgment or conviction.
So if the person that has applied to live in your rental property is currently charged with a drug crime, you will have no way of knowing that — lucky you. Nor would you be aware that the reason an applicant is applying to rent your unit is because their current landlord is currently evicting them. You would also be unable to learn that an applicant is currently being sued by their landlord for damaging the rental property they just left. You also would be unable to learn that the applicant is being sued for not paying other bills. Essentially, you would lose access to information that would be very helpful in determining if this applicant would be a successful tenant with you.
If the applicant that wants to rent your property has been evicted in the past and a motion to reopen the judgment of eviction has been filed when you are evaluating the applicant’s application — that information would be off limits to you. If the applicant ever had an eviction judgment or money judgment case reopened and vacated — regardless of the reason — you also would not be able to learn that information. Believe it or not, some courts have been known to grant a motion to reopen/reconsider and vacate a judgment of eviction, solely because the tenant already vacated the unit at the time they filed to motion to reopen/reconsider. If this bill were to be signed into law, and that was to occur, you the landlord, would never even have the chance to learn that there was an eviction judgment against the applicant you are screening.
If you use CCAP as part of your screening process (is there any landlord in Wisconsin who doesn’t?) you must advise the tenant (in writing to CYA) that you performed a CCAP search on them if you end up not renting to them. Failing to so so could end up costing you $1,000.
A person could write the Director of State Courts and ask them to remove any information on CCAP regarding any criminal case ever filed against them if it did not result in a conviction. So the individual that I represented 17 years ago when I was a young lawyer trying to decide is I wanted to be a criminal defense lawyer, who had been charged with 8 domestic violence -battery misdemeanor counts over the course of 3 years for beating his girlfriend — never to be convicted of any of them because the victim was too scared to appear in court to testify — would be able to remove any mention of being charged with those crimes. Do you think he would be a good tenant?
In the case of a civil matter — such as an eviction or money judgment — if there was no finding of liability or an eviction judgment entered than any reference to that case would be removed from CCAP, upon receipt of a request to do so by the person. So if the person applying to rent your unit has had prior evictions filed against them in which the landlord decided to not proceed because the tenant moved out before the court date, that information could be removed. Remember all those stipulated dismissals that you entered into with a tenant to vacate, so that you could avoid a trial? If this bill passes, none of those would show up in the general population CCAP database because they were dismissals.
I guess “public records” are really not so “public” after all. Hopefully this bill will not see the light of day and will die a quick death.
CORRECTION 08/05/13 —- I received a t/c from Rep. Evan Goyke, one of the authors of the bill, and he pointed out that under his bill “landlords” would be able to access the full version of CCAP as they would be included in the group of “chosen few” who would still be able to access CCAP as we currently know it. See proposed sec. 758.20(3)(a)(8). I appreciate him calling me to point that out and I apologize for inadvertantly posting incorrect information about the bill