Carroll: Lack of judicial transparency in Colorado is intolerable but there is hope

The Denver Post: A Denver Post reporter’s terrific series on how state courts have suppressed thousands of lawsuits and criminal cases from public view has prodded the judicial branch into pledging belated reform. But don’t celebrate yet. Final victory for judicial transparency in Colorado is a long way off.

And fixing one of the obstacles may require the intervention of the highest court in the land.

In his reports, The Post’s David Migoya revealed that “someone could be arrested, charged, convicted and sentenced for a crime in Colorado without anyone outside of law enforcement ever knowing who, how, why or whether the process was fair.” That’s intolerable on many levels, which is perhaps why the state court system has bestirred itself and announced that suppression orders and their legal justification may soon be made public. We shall see.

But suppression orders aren’t the only way courts prevent citizens from monitoring their activities. Another threat — thanks to a deplorable ruling this year by the Colorado Supreme Court — is the nearly unlimited authority of judges to bar public access to court documents without so much as offering a legal justification, even in a capital murder case of intense public interest that was sullied by prosecutorial misconduct.

The state high court not only rejected a request by The Colorado Independent, an online publication, to unseal documents in the death-penalty case of Sir Mario Owens, it unanimously dismissed the idea that the public has a constitutional right to inspect any judicial records.

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