New rules governing access to financial and administrative records of the Colorado Judicial Branch will quietly go into effect Monday under an interim directive issued by Chief Justice Nancy Rice of the Colorado Supreme Court.
The interim rules are nearly identical to those endorsed a month ago by the state judiciary’s Public Access Committee. The Supreme Court will consider adopting permanent regulations following a public hearing expected to be set for some time around late September.
The judiciary can write its own rules on access to administrative records because two state court decisions have determined that judicial branch agencies are not covered by the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA). This is one reason journalists and others have been unable to find out how much the State Public Defender’s Office is spending to keep Aurora movie theater shooter James Holmes from the death penalty. The legislature defeated a bill during this year’s session that would have made the state public defender subject to CORA.
Many of the judicial branch’s interim rules are in line with CORA, which covers the executive and legislative branches of government, but other deviate significantly.
As we wrote last month, only a few records on judicial branch employees will be open for inspection. That’s in contrast with CORA and the Colorado Criminal Justice Records Act, which allow for the disclosure of most records pertaining to the job performance of other public employees.
Here’s how media lawyer Steve Zansberg, president of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, put it: “Even in regard to law enforcement officers, the public is entitled to as much information as possible in … internal affairs files. With respect to judicial department employees, these records are expressly and entirely off limits.”
Rice made just one substantive change to the Public Access Committee’s draft: Records shall be withheld if disclosure “could compromise the safety or security of a judicial branch employee.”
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