Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Wisc. high court asked to stop plan to make it easier to expunge criminal records - WISCONSIN PUBLIC RADIO

By Gil Halsted, Wisconsin Public Radio

MADISON (WPR) Critics of a plan to make it easier for people to have their criminal records expunged are calling on the Supreme Court to reject the proposed new rule.

The rules petition from the State Bar Association cites studies showing that many employers use criminal records to discriminate against potential employees even when public records show that charges were dropped.

Erik Guenther is a spokesman for the state bar who helped write the petition. He says individuals continue to be penalized by employers because employers don’t see beyond the charge, or don’t care.

Guenther says the new rule would make judges aware of the problem and encourage them to expunge records when a person is acquitted or charges are dropped.

Jerome Dillard of Madison Urban Ministry is an ex-offender himself and works with people who are trying to turn their lives around after serving time in prison. He says the change would be a step a right in the direction. Dillard says people are having a tough time because of the system. He says disorderly conduct is a common charge that may be dismissed, but it’s still on a person’s record.

But both the Attorney General’s office and Bill Lueders of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council oppose the change. Leuders says all court records should remain public, and laws on the books forbidding employers from discriminating should be more actively enforced. He says it’s the responsibility of his group to encourage responsible use of the information and “not use it in unfair or discriminatory ways."

The Wisconsin Supreme Court will hear arguments for and against the new expungement rule on February 24th.

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