George Hesselberg of the Wisconsin State Journal recently reported a fight between a prison inmate and a guard in Dodge County. Felony charges were filed - and subsequently dismissed - against both men. But the inmate's charge still shows up on WCCA, the state's online system for circuit court records, while the charge against the guard was sealed, shielded from public view.
Hmmm, how often does this happen, that charges are filed and later sealed?
One way to check, identified by a state court official, is to type "Sealed*" into WCCA's field for business names. Doing this reveals an interesting thing: The majority of sealed cases (74 of 125) logged on WCCA happened in Dane County. And most of the sealed cases here, 48 in all, are - get this - traffic offenses.
What's going on? Politicians with pull fixing their speeding tickets?
Maybe not. County Court Commissioner Todd Meuer, the sealer of these files, says they involved identity theft, as when a accosted driver uses his brother's name. When this subterfuge comes to light, the case is sealed.
Dane County has also sealed criminal cases, including felonies. Judge John Albert, who has several such cases, reviewed the files at Isthmus' request. Most, he says, involved juveniles charged as adults who later won motions to waive the cases back to juvenile court. And one case involved a person charged under a false name.
Curiously, the prescribed search mechanism does not yield the case involving the prison guard. Nor does it seem possible to find Hesselberg's story in the archives at Madison.com. Information age, indeed!