Editorial: Public’s right to inspect judicial records at stake

The Daily Sentinel (Grand Junction): Lawyers representing the Colorado Independent are bringing a troubling gap in Colorado jurisprudence to the attention of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Today, the Independent — a statewide online news organization — will formally ask the nation’s highest court to review an unprecedented ruling by the Colorado Supreme Court, which recently held that the public has no First Amendment right to inspect or copy judicial records on file in Colorado’s courts of law.

The state Supreme Court’s decision in June made Colorado the only state in the nation without a presumed constitutional right for the public to access pleadings, hearing transcripts and court orders in criminal cases.

Colorado’s sunshine laws clearly state that the public has a right of access to government meetings and public records. But access to court records is another matter. The Criminal Justice Records Act is more ambiguous, allowing discretion by records custodians — often judges — who can bar access to records if disclosing them can be deemed contrary to the public interest. That creates a lot of latitude to keep the public in the dark.

The Independent, represented by First Amendment attorney Steve Zansberg, argues that freedom of the press requires a strong presumption of public access to judicial records and without such access, informed public oversight of the judicial branch is impossible.

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