What are Wisconsin Civil Court Records?
Wisconsin civil court records consist of the case documents and information generated or processed during civil court proceedings. It includes record sheets, complaints, orders, motions, exhibits, calendars, indexes, and other case information. Civil court records may also include all documents, letters, reports, and recorded information generated during the course of a civil trial, except where prevented by law or court order. In compliance with the Wisconsin Court Rule, non-confidential court records may be inspected, viewed, or copied by members of the public upon request. Interested members of the public may find Wisconsin civil court records in the jurisdiction where the case was heard.
Cases Heard by the Wisconsin Civil Court
Wisconsin civil courts attend to non-criminal and non-violent disputes between individuals and entities. Cases heard in civil courts may include; breach of agreement disputes, traffic violations, consumer complaints, landlord-tenant disputes, tort claims, workers compensation disputes, domestic related cases such as divorce, adoption, child support, and related cases, civil rights violations, etc. The resolution of civil cases is usually by financial settlements or by court order/decree.
What information is contained in a Wisconsin Civil Court Record?
The information contained in a civil court record depends on the nature and proceedings of the case. However, all civil case records share similar characteristics which may include:
- Biodata of parties involved
- Assigned Attorney(s) information
- Case information (court type, court location, case number, case type, case status)
- Case filing date
- Preliminary hearing dates and time
- Briefs of defendant-respondent
- Claims and counterclaims
- Notice of appearances
- Financial summary
- Sentence information
- Judge and division assigned to the case
Understanding Wisconsin’s Court Structure
The Wisconsin court system is composed of two appellate-level courts (Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals) and trial courts. Also, there are other special courts and administrative agencies that maintain specialized jurisdictions throughout the state.
- Supreme Court: The Supreme Court is the court of last instance on cases of state law and constitution. The 7 justices sit en banc and exercise discretionary jurisdiction over civil and criminal matters. They may also hear original cases that have not been heard in the trial courts
- Court of Appeals: The Court of Appeals are intermediate appellate courts composed of 16 court judges and four appellate districts headquartered in Milwaukee, Waukesha, Wausau, and Madison respectively. These courts preside over appeals for cases originating from the lower trial courts
- Circuit Court: Constituting the main trial courts of the state, Wisconsin circuit courts exercise general jurisdiction over civil and criminal cases. The circuit courts are divided into several branches and are composed of 249 judges. There is at least one branch in each county with the exception of six counties that share judges in pairs. The pairs include Buffalo and Pepin, Florence and Forest, and Shawano and Menominee. Records of civil cases filed at this level are maintained by the clerk of the circuit court.
- Municipal Court: Wisconsin Municipal Courts are courts of limited jurisdiction over cases involving traffic violations, ordinance matters, health code violation cases, disorderly conduct, juvenile matters, among many others. Currently, there are 237 municipal courts and 240 judges joined in no regular pattern to form 67 joint courts that serve about 2 to 17 municipalities.
Are Wisconsin Civil Court Records Open to the Public?
Following the establishment of the Wisconsin court rule, public civil records are indexed and maintained in a manner that allows the location and convenient retrieval of the information upon request. In most instances, public civil records are not entirely public as some information is partly withheld from members of the public that are not parties to the case. Publicly accessible information may include general case information such as the case number, the case status, the name of the attorney and presiding judge, names of the parties to the case, the major case events, and other general record information.
Furthermore, some records may be deemed confidential and exempted fully from public view hence access to such cases is limited to authorized individuals allowed by state statute or court order. Some of such records include:
- Adoption and paternity actions
- Termination of parental rights cases
- Juvenile delinquency cases
- Mental health evaluations cases
- Tax returns from income
- Financial statements filed in a case about child/spousal support
- Medical health status proceedings
- Family-related cases
- Confidential name change petition
- Grand juror list and grand jury proceedings
- Jane Doe proceeding
- Paternity pre-adjudication records
How to Find Civil Court Records in the State of Wisconsin
Persons who wish to inspect, view, and/or make copies of civil court records may do so in one of five methods which include:
- By submitting a record request in person
- By searching the state’s online court website
- By requesting for records via mail
- By requesting for records by phone
How to Obtain Wisconsin Civil Court Records in Person
Step 1. Gather Relevant Case Information
To be able to request a civil record in person, the requester must first determine the specific court where the case was filed. Also, some case-specific information such as the case number, first name, last name, and date of birth of at least one of the parties to the case must be known. This narrows the search and facilitates the location of the sought record. If the case number is not known, visit the Circuit court case number finder website to find it.
Step 2. Locate and Visit the Courthouse
Depending on the local court provisions, requesters can conduct a search by utilizing the self-help public access computer where cases can be searched for with the case number, or other relevant case information. Viewing the public access terminal constitutes a fast method of accessing court records. However, in such instances where the case number is not known or the requester is unable to find the individual or the record in the computerized terminal, a request for assistance may be made to the court custodian who may require a search fee before the request is processed. Furthermore, requesters who do not know how to use the self-help center may submit a written request to the clerk of court especially if copies are needed. Some courts provide online request forms that can be printed from the court website and filled before visiting the court to simplify the process. Other courts may provide this request form in physical paper format.
Step 3. Pay the Required Fees and Obtain Copies of Records
As expressed by law, there may be no attached fee for viewing and inspection of court records. However, persons who wish to obtain copies of civil records may be required to pay a reasonable amount for this service. The payment method and requirement varies from court to court and may depend on the number of pages intended to be copied. Note that additional fees may apply if certified copies are also requested.
How Do I Obtain Wisconsin Civil Court Records by Mail?
Before requesting court records by mail, the requestor must first confirm that the court of interest offers mail-in request services. The clerk of court generally provides the mailing address and outlines specific steps required for obtaining records. Requesters are required to send a written request which must include the case number, first name, last name, date of birth of one of the parties to the case, the specific document needed, a self-addressed stamped envelope, and a phone number to the court where the case was filed. Some courts may provide a downloadable form that can be printed, completed and mailed to the court. Note that the processing fee must be paid before the clerk attends to a request hence it is advisable for the requester to contact the clerk to ascertain both the cost of the sought copies and the payment method accepted by the court.
How Do I Obtain Wisconsin Civil Court Records by Phone?
Contact the custodian of the court where the case was filed to ascertain if it offers this service. If the answer is yes, requesters will need to know the case number or last name, first name, date of birth of one of the parties, and the particular information or record sought. If found, the requester may make a pick-up arrangement with the clerk (either by mail or in-person). Also, full payment is usually required before a request is processed.
How to Obtain Wisconsin Civil Court Records Online
The Wisconsin circuit courts maintain a consolidated court automation program otherwise known as the Wisconsin Circuit Court Access (WCCA), allowing interested members of the public access to view and inspect the summaries of trial court proceedings in the state. Under the access to court records rule, the information available by remote searches are limited to the party names involved in the case, case information such as case number, case judge, scheduled date, time and location of court proceedings, orders and decrees, judgment and other relevant general reports.
In sharp contrast, some information which includes social security and bank account numbers, employer or taxpayer identification number, driver’s license numbers, and passport numbers are excluded from the web portal to avoid cases of identity theft. This information usually requires in-person or mail-in requests to be retrieved from the court clerk. Also, all the information available on the web portal may be accessed free of charge. Furthermore, the amount of historic data available on the portal varies by jurisdiction and is solely based on when the consolidation case management system was deployed by the court.
The appellate level courts also maintain a separate case management system known as Access to the Public Records of the Wisconsin Supreme Court and Court of Appeals (WSCCA). This portal provides information on the status of appeals filed with the Supreme Court and the court of appeals. The case search is free of charge and the historic data dates as far back as 1993. Additionally, the Supreme Court maintains another search portal for inspection of pending cases accepted by the court for review.
Publicly available civil court records may also be accessible from some third-party websites. These websites offer the benefit of not being limited by geographical record availability and can often serve as a starting point when researching specific or multiple records. To find a record using the search engines on these sites, interested parties must provide:
- The name of someone involved providing it is a not a juvenile
- The assumed location of the record in question such as a city, county, or state name
Note: Third-party sites are not government-sponsored websites, and record availability may differ from official channels
Are all Wisconsin Civil Court Records Online?
Not all civil court records filed in the state of Wisconsin are online. Recent civil court information is maintained in the case search portal while records older than 1993 may be unavailable in digitized format limiting access to such records to walk-in visits and phone or mail-in requests. Also, online access to confidential civil court cases, such as records of family-related cases among many others is denied by statute or court rule.