For attorneys

Protection of information (redaction, confidentiality, sealing)

Frequently asked questions

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General information for all three rules
Protecting five specific numbers
Identifying confidential information
Sealing court records
Forms and other information

General information for all three rules

What are the new rules?
Starting on July 1, 2016, three new rules apply to documents filed in the Wisconsin circuit court:

You can find these rules on the legislature's website.

What is the purpose of these rules?
The new rules are intended to reduce the opportunity for identity theft, enhance personal privacy, and provide greater clarity on protecting sensitive information. They put responsibility on attorneys and self-represented parties to identify confidential information at the time of filing. The clerk of circuit court and register in probate are not required to review filings to find protected and confidential information.

Which court records are covered by the rules?
The new rules apply to all documents filed with the circuit courts after July 1, 2016, including new documents filed in existing cases. The rules apply to all filings in circuit court cases, even in confidential matters like juvenile and guardianship proceedings.

Courts are not required to review their old records. If parties want to remove social security numbers and other protected information from old records, they may move to do so. There are also provisions for removing the information from new and old transcripts (see below).

What's the definition of "redact", "seal", and "confidential"?

Protecting five specific numbers

What is protected information?
Wis. Stat. § 801.19 defines five specific numbers as "protected information."

What if I want to protect a number that isn't one of these five numbers?
The rule is limited to the five specific items of information. If you want to protect other identifying numbers, you need to file a motion to seal (see below).

Do other courts have these rules?
The federal courts and at least 20 other state courts have similar rules that require redaction of social security numbers, financial account numbers, and other identifiers. The lists for each state vary.

How do I handle redaction of the five specific numbers?
When preparing a document like a complaint or motion, you should omit these numbers or refer to them generically (for example, "plaintiff's checking account"). If the number is necessary to the action, you must submit it to the court using form GF-241.

When submitting a previously existing document like an exhibit, you should redact the number by blanking it out on a copy, so the redacted version can be placed in the court file. If the number is necessary to the action, you should submit it on the protected information form or by attaching an unredacted copy to the form.

What are some common documents that include the five numbers?
Common exhibits are credit card statements, bank statements, tax returns, W-2 forms, and copies of driver licenses. You should redact these numbers before any exhibits are submitted.

Don't I have to submit the original document to the court?
If you are submitting a document in support of a motion or brief, you should submit a copy. Now that the courts are using electronic files, the clerks of court do not keep original pieces of paper anyway. Keep the original document in case there is some question about the authenticity of the document. If the court requires you to produce the original document, the clerk will keep the original.

Do law enforcement officers need to omit the driver license number from citations?
For electronic citations, the court case management software will mask the driver license number from public viewing, so law enforcement should continue to include the number on electronic citations. For paper citations, law enforcement should omit the driver license number and submit it on the confidential form GF-241.

Can the court share these five numbers with other agencies?
Yes, access to other persons and agencies is still allowed as provided by law. Also, the parties may stipulate in writing to allow access to protected information to any person.

What's the best way to redact a paper copy?
First, make a copy of the document and set the original aside. Keep it until the case is completely over. Make redactions on the copy by whiting or blacking out information. Then make a copy of the copy and submit that to the court.

What's the best way to redact an electronic copy?
If you are redacting a scanned or converted PDF, certain applications, like Adobe Acrobat Professional and Foxit PhantomPDF, include tools and offer plug-ins specifically for redaction. If redacting a Microsoft Word document, the best practice is to omit protected information during file creation. When redacting an existing Word document, remove or replace the protected information and then paste the redacted contents into a text editor like Notepad. Programs like Notepad will allow you to save a version of the document free of deleted information that is hidden in the code of Word documents.

How do I remove these five numbers from an older case file?
If you wish to redact the five numbers from old court records, you must file a motion and identify all places in the court record where the number appears. Use form GF-242. The clerk of court will perform the actual redaction using special software. It is then your responsibility to check the court record to make sure everything was redacted.

How do I get the five numbers redacted from a transcript?
If you wish to redact the five numbers from a transcript, you must file a motion and identify all places in the records where the number appears. Use form GF-243. The court reporter will perform the actual redaction and send you replacement pages. It is then your responsibility to check the transcript and make sure that everything has been redacted.

What about court orders and opinions?
Judges and court commissioners are also required to omit the five numbers when writing orders and opinions.

What if someone fails to comply with the redaction rule?
If someone files a pleading with the numbers still visible, several things may happen. If you fail to protect your own information, you have waived the protection offered by the rule and the document may simply remain in the file. The court, on its own motion, may seal the improperly filed documents and order you to file again.

If you fail to protect the information of another person, the court may impose reasonable expenses, including attorney fees and the costs of bringing a motion and preparing a new document. For serious violations, the court may sanction the violation as contempt. (See Wis. Stat. § 801.19 for more information.)

Identifying confidential information

What is confidential information?
Wis. Stat. § 801.20 provides a procedure for filing information and documents that are made confidential by statutes, court rules, or case law. Certain documents and proceedings must be brought to the attention of the clerk of court when they are filed. Use form GF-244.

What are the clerk of circuit court and register in probate responsible for?
There are some commonly-filed forms that court staff will recognize and will treat as confidential. You do not need to submit form GF-244 for:

Some statutes require an entire classification of cases to be kept confidential. These statutes have provisions allowing disclosure to the parties, their attorneys, and others. You do not need to submit form GF-244 for the following records:

What is the filing party responsible for?
Certain confidential documents must be brought to the attention of the clerk when they are filed, using form GF-244. Be careful not to include confidential records as attachments or exhibits. They should be submitted separately by attaching them to the form.

You must also identify certain cases as confidential when they are filed:

What if I don't see a record on this list?
To protect other court records not listed on form GF-244, you must file a motion to seal (see above).

Aren't health care records automatically confidential?
Although medical and psychological records are confidential in many contexts, that confidentiality does not necessarily extend to the records once they are submitted as part of a court proceeding. The clerk of court will not automatically treat health care records as confidential because of Wis. Stat. § 146.82 or HIPAA. If you wish to protect a medical record, you must identify a statutory exception on form GF-244 or move to seal the records.

How does the circuit court handle information about crime victims and witnesses?
Wisconsin law provides that crime victims and witnesses must be treated with fairness, dignity and respect for their privacy by public officials. Wis. Stat. § 950.04. There are some specific statutory protections:

However, a crime victim's name, address and other information are not handled as confidential in circuit court unless there is a specific order by the court. To protect such information, a crime victim or witness must file a motion to seal with the court, using form GF-246. The district attorney's office and victim-witness coordinator may be able to help.

The Office of Crime Victim Services of the Wisconsin Department of Justice offers resources for crime victims, to explain the rights of victims in the criminal justice system and assist in exercising them.

When is information confidential in domestic abuse cases?
In cases of domestic and other abuse, victims may file petitions for temporary restraining orders and injunctions against those who abuse them. These cases have some specific confidentiality protections that are automatically applied by the clerk of court:

If you need additional protection you must ask the court to seal the information, using form GF-246. Even if your address is kept confidential from the other party, it must still be filed with the court on the confidential address information form, CV-502. The address may be shared with law enforcement agencies for serving papers, or with other governmental agencies.

There are services available to help victims of domestic abuse, child abuse, individuals at risk, and harassment. End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin is a coalition of groups working with communities to prevent and end domestic abuse. Their website has links to numerous local and tribal programs.

Why is my child's name showing up in the public court record?
The names of children involved in court cases are specifically protected in four situations:

In other matters, the names of children are not confidential without a specific motion and court order. If you think a child's name should not be in the public court record, you may file a motion to seal using form GF-246.

Why isn't the QDRO confidential?
The financial disclosure form and exchange of financial information are confidential in family cases, so parties sometimes assume that a qualified domestic relations order will be confidential as well. These orders often contain social security numbers and account numbers. If you are filing a QDRO with the court, you should redact the numbers and place them on form GF-241, or submit both a redacted and unredacted version.

Is my driver license number confidential?
The federal Driver's Privacy Protection Act (DPPA) restricts the use of personal information obtained from a state department of motor vehicles for any purpose not allowed by law. The scope of the privacy provided by federal law is currently being litigated.

Driver license numbers must be redacted from documents filed on or after July 1, 2016. For information that comes to the court on electronic citations, the court CCAP software will mask the driver license number from public view. Driver license information will still be shared with other agencies as allowed by law.

Are there records that are not kept in the court file?
A few records related to court cases are not kept in the court file:

Sealing court records

How do I seal a court record?
Wis. Stat. § 801.21 provides procedures and forms for making a motion to seal or redact. If the court seals a record, it means that a portion of a document or an entire document will not be accessible to the public. The statute sets out the process for parties and the court to follow. It does not set the standards for the court to use in deciding the motion to seal; those are found in Wisconsin case law.

When is a motion to seal necessary?
Wisconsin public policy favors public access to government records. Wis. Stat. § 59.20(3) provides specific authority for inspection of papers required to be kept by the clerk of courts and register in probate. Court records are generally open to the public unless protected by a statute.

Some court records are protected by Wis. Stat. § 801.19 (such as social security and driver license numbers) and Wis. Stat. § 801.20 (listing the court records made confidential by statute; see above). For all other records, if you wish to keep information private, you must file a motion to seal. The motion may extend to an item of information like a name or address, a document like a medical report, or in rare instances the whole case.

What procedures do I follow to file a motion to seal?
You may ask the court to redact (omit or blank out) certain pieces of information from all records in the case. Alternatively, you may ask the court to seal a whole document or the whole case. Forms GF-245–247 are available for making a motion to seal the court record or the transcript. You can also ask to have the information filed under a temporary seal until the court rules on the motion.

Because the law presumes that most court records will be open to the public, you must cite legal authority (such as statutes, court rules, or case law) to support your request to seal a record.

If there are specific facts that would be important to the court in making the decision, you may attach an affidavit to provide those facts and to explain why certain information should not be publicly available. The clerk of court or register in probate cannot seal a record; this decision must be made by the court. See Wis. Stat. § 801.21 for more information.

Are there any other statutes that allow the court to seal?
Some statutes provide that the court may seal certain records or seal the whole case:

Can I ask the court to seal something just on the court website?
Sealing orders apply to the information no matter what format it is in.

What will happen if the court seals information?
If the court decides that sealing or redacting is required, the court should seal or redact the least amount of information that will achieve the purpose. The public record will indicate that an order was issued and the name of the court official entering the order, for example, "Plaintiff's medical record sealed by order of Judge Jones". The sealing order will indicate who can see the information. Information may still be shared with other agencies as allowed by law.

Where can I go to learn more about the laws that affect sealing?
Many state statutes require other custodians to keep certain information confidential, and these may be used to support a motion to seal. For a list of these statutes see State Bar of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Public Records and Open Meetings Handbook, appendix D. For information about the state public records law and the cases that interpret it, see Wisconsin Department of Justice, Wisconsin Public Records Law Compliance Guide, found on the DOJ website.

For information about protecting health care records, crime victim information, domestic abuse cases, qualified domestic relations orders, children's names, and driver records (see above).

Forms and other information

What forms are available for redaction, confidentiality and sealing?

Forms relating to the new rules will be finalized in early June 2016. Court forms are developed by the court Records Management Committee and are posted on the court website here.

What other forms are available?

What information appears on the Wisconsin court website?
The Wisconsin Circuit Court Access (WCCA) website provides information about parties, court dates, filings, and orders. Unlike the federal court website (PACER), the Wisconsin court website does not display or sell documents from cases. To see documents and transcripts, you must go to the courthouse in the county where the action was filed.

By court policy, certain information should not be entered into fields that display on the Wisconsin Circuit Court Access website. The clerk of court will not enter information such as social security numbers, credit card numbers, security codes, and passwords. The clerk will also not enter the names and address of victims, citizen witnesses, and jurors. The clerk will not enter the full date of birth except for criminal defendants. The Director of State Courts Policy on Disclosure of Public Information over the Internet is posted on the Wisconsin Circuit Court Access (WCCA) website.

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