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Wisconsin Court Records

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Are Wisconsin Court Records Public?

According to the Wisconsin Open Records Law, citizens can inspect or obtain copies of records maintained by government authorities. The Wisconsin government hopes the accountability provided by the open record law will enable citizens and the general public to examine the conduct of government affairs as contained in documents and records kept by government officials.

Wisconsin defines a record as any material on which written, drawn, printed, spoken, visual, or electromagnetic information or electronically generated or stored data is recorded or preserved, regardless of physical form or characteristics, which has been created or is being kept by an authority. Wisconsin court records are considered public records in line with the provisions in the open record statutes.

Records are presumed to be open to inspection or copying except where exemptions have been made. Where an exemption applies, the disclosure provisions of the public record statute become inoperative. Certain records may be exempt due to state or federal laws, law enforcement and investigation information, juvenile status, or where disclosure amounts to an invasion of privacy. Requirements of the public records law apply to records that exist at the time a public record request is made. Wisconsin's public record law does not require authorities to create new records to fulfill public records requests.

Enacted in 1982, the Wisconsin Open Records Law does not require requesters to state the purpose of their requests. However, the Wisconsin Supreme Court has found that the purpose of a request for a public record can be relevant in the balancing test. Balancing tests usually weigh the public interest to be served by disclosure of records against the private or public interest jeopardized by the disclosure of the records being sought. Where the interest threatened by disclosure outweighs the public right to know, access is typically denied.

What Shows Up on a Wisconsin Court Record Search

Wisconsin Court Records are documented information and documents filed in a legal case before a court in Wisconsin. Court documents may include dockets, pleadings, motions, briefs, orders, and expert testimony. Court records include documents maintained by a court clerk that are generated through civil, traffic, or criminal proceedings in the court.

A Wisconsin Court records search provides members of the public and researchers with case-related information and documents for personal or legal use. Wisconsin court records enable the courts to efficiently manage court caseloads and enhance the effective administration of justice in the state.

In Wisconsin, court records are maintained by the Wisconsin court clerks, who are the official custodians of court records and provide records search services through various government-owned media. The record search services provided by government-owned media and other private media allow the public to access court record repositories to obtain information about case status, documents for appealing a court decision, or judicial research. A range of criteria may be used alone or combined to conduct a court record search in Wisconsin. These include the case party name, case number, court location, type of record, judge's information, and date of birth.

How Do I Find Court Records in Wisconsin?

The first step to take when trying to obtain court records in Wisconsin is to identify the court where the record is kept. The Clerks of Court are the court record custodians in Wisconsin. Many of these custodians keep records in paper and electronic formats. Upon identifying the courthouse where the record in question is filed, the next step in obtaining a court record is to make a public record request to the Clerk of Court.

Wisconsin Court Records Public Access

Members of the public can get remote access to electronic versions of case records in Wisconsin through the Wisconsin Circuit Court Access (WCCA) and the Wisconsin Supreme Court and Court of Appeals Case Access (WSCCA). The WCCA provides the public with access to case records of the Circuit Courts that are part of the Consolidated Court Automation Programs (CCAP) Case Management System. The WCCA only provides public access to certain public records of the Wisconsin Circuit Courts. Confidential records such as adoptions, juvenile delinquency, child protection, termination of parental rights, guardianship, and civil commitments are unavailable on the WCCA.

The WCCA allows a user to find court case information by providing the name of a party to the case, business name, or the case number. Search results can be limited to specific counties or the entire state.

The information displayed in the case summaries found on the WCCA portal include:

  • Names of parties to the case
  • A description of the case type
  • The court official assigned to the case
  • An indication of whether the case is still pending or has been completed

In criminal cases, the WCCA portal displays any notes or explanatory comments entered by the Clerk of Court. Note that explanatory notes on WCCA may not be construed as official transcripts or complete descriptions of documents, hearings, court orders, or other events. Documents filed in court cases are not displayed on the portal. Electronically or scanned documents filed with the Clerk of Court may be accessed in person at the courthouse.

The WCCA portal displays case file information for the entire period the file is retained by the Clerk of Court. Generally, civil cases and misdemeanor criminal cases are retained for 20 years. Felony criminal cases are retained for 50 years, except Class A felony cases, which are retained for 75 years. The exceptions to this rule are for small claims cases that are dismissed with no money judgment entered against any party and criminal cases where all charges in the case are dismissed or result in an acquittal. These types of cases are kept on the WCCA portal for two years. The following types of cases are also displayed for two years after entry of the final orders in those cases:

  • Traffic forfeiture and Forfeiture (non-traffic ordinance violation) cases on which the charge has a disposition of dismissed or acquitted
  • Injunctions under Wis. Stat. Chapter 813 for domestic abuse, child abuse, individual at risk, and harassment, which results in a dismissal or a denial

WSCCA provides public access to the status of appeals filed with the Wisconsin Supreme Court and the Wisconsin Court of Appeals. Note that WSCCA only provides public access to cases that were categorized as "open" from the end of 1993 forward.

WSCCA allows users to search for a court record by the following options:

  • Appeal Number
  • Circuit Court Case Number
  • Party Name
  • Business Name
  • Attorney Name

How to Obtain Wisconsin Court Records in Person

Court records can also be accessed in person at the various courthouses in Wisconsin. For cases that are stored electronically, requesters can view the contents of the file at public access terminals located inside the Offices of the Clerks of Court. Even though a case is no longer displayed on the WCCA portal, the case file can still be viewed in person at the office of the Clerk of Clerk.

Obtaining actual court documents or certified copies of court documents attracts a nominal fee. Pursuant to WI Statute 814.61(10), copies of court records cost $1.25 per page. Certified copies are charged at $5 per document in accordance with WI Statute 814.61(5). Triple seal or exemplified copies cost $15 and $1.25 per page for the attached documents. Pursuant to WI Statute 19.35(3)(f), a prepayment fee is required if the total cost exceeds $5.

How to Conduct a Wisconsin Court Record Search by Name

To conduct a Wisconsin Court record search by name, record seekers may have to visit the websites of the court where the case was filed and use the record search tool provided. The Wisconsin Court System provides access to court case records through the "Search For Cases" tool on its website. Court record search for cases filed at the Circuit Courts can be conducted through the Wisconsin Circuit Court Access (WCCA), while Wisconsin Supreme Court and Appellate Courts case records can be accessed through the Wisconsin Supreme Court and Court of Appeals Access (WSCCA).

To use the Wisconsin Court System Search For Cases tool, visit the website, click on the search for cases icon, and select the court of filing. This will redirect the inquirer to the WCCA or WSCCA portal depending on the selected court. Users are required to agree to the terms of use as displayed on the portal before they can proceed to the search page. On the search page, inquirers are expected to enter the search criteria as provided on the search filter form. The search criteria for WCCA include case party name, county (to be selected from a dropdown list), and case number. WSCCA search criteria are appeal number, Circuit Court case number, party name (first, middle, and last), Business name, attorney's name, county, case type, court district, filing date, case status, and class code.

How to Get Court Records Online for Free

Generally, the Wisconsin Court System provides access to court records through the WCCA and the WSCCA at no cost. To get court records online for free in Wisconsin, inquirers only need to visit the website of the Wisconsin Court System to use the Search For Cases tool. Users of the portal do not need to register an account but are only required to consent to the terms of use as displayed on the welcome page of the portal.

United States Courts Opinions is another website where record seekers can get court records online for free. To access court records on this online database, visit the website, then select the US District Court and the year from the dropdown list. This option provides access to US courts' opinions for free.

Alternatively, PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records) and some third-party commercial websites also provide access to court records at a low cost.

Considered open to citizens of the United States, court records are available through both traditional, government sources, and through third-party websites and organizations. In many cases, third-party websites make the search easier as they are not limited geographically or by technological limitations. They are considered a good place to start when looking for a specific record or multiple records. In order to gain access to these records, interested parties must typically provide:

  • The name of the person listed in the record. Juveniles are typically exempt from this search method.
  • The last known or assumed location of the person listed in the record. This includes cities, counties, and states.

While third-party sites offer such services, they are not government sponsored entities, and record availability may vary on these sites when compared to government sources.

How to Find Bankruptcy Records in Wisconsin

To find bankruptcy court records in Wisconsin, record seekers need to know the court that has the jurisdiction to hear bankruptcy cases in Wisconsin. Bankruptcy law is exclusively administered by the US government through the US Bankruptcy Courts. There are two (2) Bankruptcy Courts in Wisconsin, so there is a need to determine which of the district courts heard the case.

Bankruptcy records are a part of the US Court records repositories; hence, to find Bankruptcy Court case records in Wisconsin, inquirers may use the Case Locator on the websites of the US Bankruptcy Courts in Wisconsin. Also, Bankruptcy records can be found on the Federal court online database known as PACER.

Record seekers are required to register a user account to use the court case locator or the PACER Services Portal. Access to case information using the case locator costs $0.10 per page for non-specific searches or transcripts of proceedings and $30 for a case document.

The Multi-court Voice Case Information System (McVCIS) can also be used to obtain bankruptcy case information in Wisconsin. This option provides basic case information free of charge, and it is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Basic case information available includes case number, name of the debtor, date of filing, name of judge and trustee, case status, asset status, 341 meeting date, claim deadline, discharge/closing date, and case disposition.

Alternatively, the United States Courts Opinions website provides access to court opinions of US Bankruptcy Courts in Wisconsin at no cost.

Can You Look Up Court Cases in Wisconsin?

Yes, court records for non-confidential court cases are available to be accessed in Wisconsin. Interested persons may look up Wisconsin court cases remotely via the Wisconsin Circuit Court Access (WCCA) and the Wisconsin Supreme Court and Court of Appeals Case Access (WSCCA) portals. WCCA provides online access to case information from the Circuit Courts, while WSCCA provides public access to case information from the Wisconsin Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals. Court cases may be accessed through in-person requests to the courthouses where the cases are filed. The public access terminals in the offices of the Clerks of Courts may be used to look up court cases. This service may attract a nominal fee.

Wisconsin Court Case Lookup Exceptions

According to the provision of the Wisconsin Public Record Act, court records are a part of public records. Interested individuals may request to inspect and/ or obtain copies of court records in Wisconsin. However, there is case information that is restricted from public access by the law. Wisconsin court case lookup exceptions include

  • Records regarding confidential case types such as juvenile delinquency proceedings, child custody cases, adoption processes, termination of parental rights, mental health commitment, and guardianship
  • Documents containing confidential information that is filed in an open case, such as financial disclosure statements, and personally-identifying information
  • Records regarding paternity disputes are confidential until the case is determined
  • A search warrant is confidential until the warrant is executed.
  • Any case information or document that has been sealed by a court order.

How to Find a Court Docket in Wisconsin

A court docket in Wisconsin is a schedule of court proceedings and the official timetable for caseload management in a court. Court dockets are maintained by the clerk of the court where the case is filed. Features of a docket sheet are known as docket entries. Docket entries are concise representations of the information about hearings, motions, orders, pleadings, case events, and judgments. Wisconsin court dockets are available for inspection at the office of the court clerk and on courts' websites. Case parties and their attorney can use case dockets to monitor court appearance dates and deadlines. It also serves as a source of data for judicial research.

Types of Courts in Wisconsin

The Wisconsin Court System includes municipal courts, circuit courts, the Court of Appeals, and the Supreme Court.

  • The Wisconsin Supreme Court is the highest court of authority and provides the guiding rules for the court system. The Supreme Court is regarded as the court of last resort. Its decisions are regarded as opinions or orders.
  • The Wisconsin Court of Appeals is regarded as an error-correcting court that reviews the decisions of Circuit Courts over any case appealed to it. There are Four Districts of the Court of Appeals in Wisconsin.
  • The Wisconsin Circuit Courts are the trial courts for civil and criminal cases. There are 253 branches of Circuit Courts across 72 counties.
  • The Municipal Courts are the lowest-level courts in Wisconsin with jurisdiction over traffic, parking, and ordinance matters. There are 230 municipal courts in Wisconsin.

Other courts in Wisconsin include US District Courts and US Bankruptcy Courts.

Civil vs Small Claims Courts in Wisconsin: Understanding the Difference

Wisconsin Small Claims Courts are divisions of Civil Courts that hear small claims lawsuits involving property or money worth more than $10,000; it is considered a large claim. If the amount in controversy is below $10,000, it is considered a small claim. Small claims court is a special type of civil court that resolves disputes more quickly and inexpensively when compared to other court proceedings. Rules are more relaxed, and plaintiffs may appear in court without attorneys. Wisconsin limits third-party complaints, personal injury claims, and actions based in tort to claims of $5,000 or less. Typical small claims cases include:

  • Eviction due to foreclosure
  • Return of earnest money for the purchase of real property, irrespective of the amount
  • Actions on an arbitration award for the purchase of real property, regardless of the amount
  • Evictions, regardless of the amount of rent claimed
  • Repossessions of properties when it is a non-consumer credit action where the value of the property is not more than $10,000
  • Repossessions of properties when it is a consumer credit transaction where the financed amount is $25,000 or less.
  • Property damage or personal injury when the amount in controversy is $5,000 or less
  • Claims for money where the amount claimed does not exceed $10,000 if the actions are for money judgments only or the garnishment of wages

A small claims court cannot award the winner of the case more than $10,000 plus costs, even if the claim exceeds $10,000. Wisconsin permits any individual or corporation doing business in the state to sue or be sued in small claims court.

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