Editorial: CORA and the courts

From The Daily Sentinel (Grand Junction):  District attorneys have to tell us how much they spend prosecuting cases, but public defenders don’t have to disclose how much taxpayer money they spend defending their clients.

That’s one of the inequities of current rules that guide transparency in the state’s court system. But there’s a bigger one. In Colorado, the entire judicial branch has never been subject to Colorado’s Open Records Act. Instead, it operates by special rules established by the courts themselves.

The state’s media organizations say this arrangement has a corrosive effect on the public’s right to know and understand how its government functions.

It’s a complex topic because court cases include a wide range of privileged information — things like investigative documents and conversations between criminal defendants, their spouses and attorneys. The Colorado Press Association isn’t attempting to access these protected records. It simply wants the judicial branch’s administrative records to be subject to the same disclosure standards as other government agencies.

These administrative records reflect the official conduct of some 4,000 public employees within the court system. The CPA thinks those records shouldn’t be treated any differently from the other branches of state government, which are subject to CORA.

The state Supreme Court has ruled that court records are not subject to open records law. But it did create a website that allows the public access to some court records — with the ability to close off some documents in cases where judges seal records.

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