How to Access Court Documents
There are two main court systems in Wisconsin – state and federal courts. Each court system operates independently from the other, using a separate electronic document filing system.
State Court Records
You can access state court records by clicking here. The state court records are maintained on a website commonly called “CCAP.” This stands for Consolidated Court Automation Programs.” Cases start in something called “circuit court,” where records can be viewed. This record online system is how lawyers, parties, and the public can keep track of cases.
How to Search
CCAP contains three different methods of searching for cases. First, you can do a “simple” case search based on first and last name. You can also limit those searches to a particular county. You can also look up a case by the specific case number (tip: you'll also need to include the county if you're searching something based off a case number). You can also search for cases involving a specific business.
Next, you can also do an “advanced” search. The information options here can be overwhelming, and not something used by most people looking for a case. The fields allow lawyers, public policy analysts, or other interested parties to do a “deep dive” into specific litigation or criminal justice trends. You can even do a search based off a lawyer's “bar number.” A bar number is a license number provided to all Wisconsin licensed lawyers. For example, the bar number provided to Attorney DeLadurantey is “1063937.” If you type in that number and run a search, you can see the hundreds of cases he's been involved in.
Finally, you can do something called a “judgment search.” This allows you to search for something called a “docketed judgment.” These are cases involving money, where a court has awarded money to one of the parties. The party can take that award of money and “docket” the funds owed. This serves to operate as a lien on any real estate owned by the debtor/party in that case.
Why Can't I see the documents?
Like all systems, CCAP has limitations. You can view something called the “docket,” but not the individual documents on each of the entries. You'll be able to determine the general nature of the case, the parties, and the various entries that indicate what actions have bene taken.
Federal Court Records System
Federal court records are available through a system called “PACER.” This stands for Public Access to Electronic Court Records. But here's the issue: you have to pay for access to PACER. While anyone can sign up for access to the federal court records system, you are going to pay $0.10 per page of information you receive (or search for). The charge for audio recordings from hearings is $2.40 per recordings. The actual decisions (sometimes called “orders”) written in cases are free.
The search interface on federal records is similar to the state court system. You can search cases in any federal court, or limit your search to a specific state. You can search via party, or a specific case number. The scope of the search options is very large, and using a common name or general search term can result in a large number of “false positive” returns.
Access Bankruptcy Records
All bankruptcy records are part of the PACER system, and therefore not accessible via the state court system. So unless someone is paying for access to PACER, they are unable to access the bankruptcy records.
Free “case services” online
A quick search online will reveal all kinds of companies offering free case records. The quality, accuracy, and legitimacy of those services are questionable. If you are trying to figure out “what happened” in a case, or look at a specific case document, you can always view them for free at the courthouse. Court records (for the most part) are open to the public and viewable for free at the appropriate courthouse.
Questions about a case?
If you've been involved in a case and have questions about the records, contact us for a free consultation.