Judge rejects secrecy motion in Aurora movie theater shooting case

An Arapahoe County District Court judge has denied a request to restrict access to court records in the Aurora movie theater shooting case.

The motion filed in early October by attorneys for suspect James Holmes had been opposed by the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, the Colorado Press Association, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and several media organizations because it would have severely limited the ability of journalists, especially those based  out of town, to effectively cover the case. Victims and their families also argued that that limiting their access to transcripts and other information would have hindered their civil claims connected to the shootings.

The motion by Holmes’ attorneys asserted that easy access to pleadings jeopardizes Holmes’ right to a fair trial. It asked the court to seal all transcripts of proceedings, suppress the register of actions and remove the case from the “Cases of Interest” section of the court’s website, which gives the public direct access to court documents.

“The defendant’s motion incorrectly assumes that his constitutional rights and the link to this case on the Court’s website cannot coexist,” Judge Carlos A. Samour, Jr. wrote in an order dated Nov. 22. “While it is true that the media and the public do not have a constitutional right to access this case on the Court’s website, and that the website is, indeed, a courtesy, the defendant has failed to present any legal authority or evidence to support the assertion that the website has, or will, prevent him from obtaining due process or a fair trial by an impartial jury.”

Given the high interest in the Holmes case, the website “has become a necessity,” the judge said. “If the Court were to grant the defendant’s request, members of the public, including the media, would be forced to come to the courthouse and request documents in person.” He noted that the “Cases of Interest” section gets more than 5,000 hits  per month and that 500 pages are filed in the Holmes case every month. Assuming that only 10 percent of people visiting the website would actually come to the courthouse for copies of filings, “that would translate into 250,000 copies month.”

“Using a very conservative estimate, if the case’s link were removed from the website, the Court would have to hire at least four new full-time staff members and purchase at least two more copiers and the corresponding supplies just to respond to the requests for records related to the case.”

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