Wisconsin judges and district attorneys would no longer have to provide information to the public about the property they own under changes made by Democratic legislators to a bill actually meant to increase public access to certain government documents.
The legislative measure was intended to increase public access to Statement of Economic Interest documents filed each year by about 2,100 public officials and others who serve on state boards and commissions. These forms (here and here, for example) describe their economic holdings - like land, buildings, stocks, bonds, business activities and other investments and income. The form also requires them to vaguely disclose the value of each holding.
The legislation would require the Government Accountability Board to post the documents on the Internet. For decades, people who want to see the documents have had to submit a written request, and their names are given to the public officials whose statement are viewed. That practice would stop.
But Democratic Representative Fred Kessler of Milwaukee, a former judge, convinced the committee to change the bill to prohibit the board from releasing information online or in any other form about property owned by judges and district attorneys.
Kessler said he wants the property information for judges and prosecutors kept secret because they are regularly harassed or threatened by people who have been in their courts.
Now no one wants to see judges, prosecutors or any other law enforcement officers put in peril, but the logic for excluding them is hard to pin down.
First, how routinely are judges and prosecutors statewide harassed?
Second, are judges and prosecutors who know the ins and outs of the law better than most of us just letting this pass, and if there is no current remedy, shouldn't there be one regardless of the public access issue raised here?
Third, how would limiting public access to these documents address that problem if the harassment and threats are already occurring?
And finally, some other public officials like state legislators have no doubt experienced harassment and threats so why single out judges and prosecutors for this special treatment?