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News from around Wisconsin (11:33 p.m. 2/24/10)

Justices hear arguments over Wis. court records

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin’s legal association told the state Supreme Court on Wednesday that judges need broader powers to expunge court records because the records are too easily accessible online and can be abused.

Currently, judges can expunge juvenile records and records of offenders under age 25 who committed misdemeanors or low-level felonies. The State Bar of Wisconsin has petitioned the Supreme Court to adopt rules that would permit judges to erase records in an acquittal, if a case is dismissed or if the minimum time for retaining the records has expired.

“To allow continued access to such easily misunderstood information … poses the risk that such a record could be ‘a vehicle for improper purposes,’ whether intentional or not,” the association’s petition said.

Criminal defense attorney Erik Guenther, speaking on behalf of the bar association during a hearing before the court, argued that judges have the inherent power to control their own records, even if that means going beyond state statutes.

But justices seemed skeptical. Justice Annette Ziegler questioned whether the court could grant judges more powers than state law dictates.

“As a judge you have to follow what the law says, whether you like it or not,” Ziegler said.

At issue is Wisconsin’s online court database, which offers anyone with a computer and a mouse access to statewide criminal and civil records. The site generates as many as 5 million hits per day.

Guru’s attorneys argue against $5 million bail

PRESCOTT, Ariz. (AP) — An Arizona judge said Wednesday that he will modify the conditions of release for a motivational speaker charged with manslaughter, but will issue a written order later this week.

Attorneys for James Arthur Ray have been trying to persuade the judge to lower his $5 million bond. Ray has been held in a county jail in Camp Verde, Ariz., since his arrest earlier this month. He’s facing three manslaughter counts for deaths that occurred during his high-priced “Spiritual Warrior” retreat near Sedona in October.

Prosecutors asked that the bond be set at $1.5 million to ensure Ray’s continued appearances on court. But defense attorneys argued that Ray should either be released on his own recognizance or bail be set at a couple hundred thousand dollars.

Wis. Dems blast Walker pledge to create 250K jobs

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Scott Walker, a GOP candidate for governor, is taking heat from Democrats and Republicans alike for his claim that he can create 250,000 jobs in Wisconsin by 2015.

The state Democratic Party chair on Wednesday accused Walker of making an “outrageous claim” that had “zero credibility.”

“You don’t get to make up numbers out of thin air just because you want to be governor,” Democratic Party Chair Mike Tate said on a conference call with reporters.

Tate accused Walker of doing little to create jobs in his eight years as the Milwaukee County executive, and said his party would launch a public database that tracks all the jobs Walker creates. A link to the database will be posted on the party’s Web site, Tate said.

Walker’s campaign responded Wednesday, saying infrastructure investments at General Mitchell International Airport while he was county executive created hundreds of employment opportunities.

“It’s a stunning success story of true job creation — the hundreds of jobs created from Republic (Airways), Air Tran, and Southwest all came to Milwaukee County because we have a great airport that’s successful through long-term planning and efficient management of funds,” spokeswoman Jill Bader said.

Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle has claimed credit for helping persuade Republic Airways to add up to 800 jobs in the Milwaukee area by offering state tax incentives that could eventually be worth $27 million.

Wis. DNR launches $2 million deer research project

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — State wildlife officials reeling from hunter frustration and distrust announced a $2 million project to better track Wisconsin’s deer population Wednesday.

Department of Natural Resources officials hope the effort will give them their best idea yet of how many deer roam the state and the threats they face — and generate confidence from hunters who lost faith in agency strategies after an anemic fall hunt.

“We have heard their concerns and we believe this is a significant action to ensure … we have the best system possible,” agency Secretary Matt Frank said.

Hunters have constantly complained about the DNR’s regulations, but their anger boiled over in the fall after two years of poor hunts.

They insist the DNR overestimated the herd and imposed draconian reduction strategies, including multiple hunting seasons, more antlerless deer tags and earn-a-buck regulations, which require hunters to kill an antlerless deer before they can take a buck. They say those moves have devastated the deer population, putting their beloved sport’s future in jeopardy.

Things got so heated, Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker, D-Weston, called for the DNR to fire every employee involved in deer management.

The DNR’s new project is dubbed “Investing in Wisconsin’s Whitetails.”

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