Wisconsin Justice Initiative
Press Release

Milwaukee Municipal Court denies records request

“We are merely trying to determine whether Municipal Court is meeting its legal obligations to ensure that defendants get a fair shake,” WJI Executive Director Gretchen Schuldt said.

By - Jul 22nd, 2016 12:00 pm

July 22Milwaukee Municipal Court is denying access to audio tapes sought to determine whether the court is meeting its legal obligation to provide attorneys to defendants facing jail time, the Wisconsin Justice Initiative said Friday.

The tapes also may reveal whether the three Milwaukee Municipal Court judges conduct required hearings to determine whether defendants can afford to pay fines, and whether the judges provide impoverished defendants with alternatives to fines, WJI said.

“We have real concerns about whether Municipal Court is delivering justice, or simply issuing and collecting fines and forfeitures,” WJI Executive Director Gretchen Schuldt said. “The court’s obvious reluctance to provide requested audio only increases our concerns.”

WJI requested access to five months of audio tapes of court proceedings. While not all proceedings are taped, state law requires electronic recording of “every proceeding in which testimony is taken under oath or affirmation in a municipal court.”

Municipal Court, in a letter signed by Assistant Court Administrator Jane E.T.  Islo, denied the request, and directed WJI to revise and reduce its records demand. Islo cited as a reason for court’s denial the burden of deleting home addresses, home email addresses, home phone numbers, and Social Security information of city employees who appear in court as defendants or witnesses.

“The court displayed some truly bizarre reasoning with that one,” Schuldt said. “Under that logic, state courts – and counties as well, because they handle many court functions — would have to go through ever Circuit Court, Appeals Court, and Supreme Court record to delete the home addresses of every defendant who might be a state or county employee. That just doesn’t happen.”

Schuldt also said that government witnesses don’t generally give their home phone numbers and other personal protected information when they are testifying in open court. “It’s a totally bogus issue,” she said.

The rejection letter also cited the burden of separating confidential juvenile hearing information from adult hearing information. However, Schuldt said, state law already requires separation of juvenile records from adult records.

WJI is willing to break its records request into multiple parts and accept responses in stages, Schuldt said.

“We are merely trying to determine whether Municipal Court is meeting its legal obligations to ensure that defendants get a fair shake,” Schuldt said. “We expect the court to comply with our request in a timely and expeditious manner.”

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