Editorial: ‘Shrouded justice’ uncovers court secrecy in need of reform

The Denver Post: A frightening black hole of judicial secrecy exists in Colorado. If not for an experienced investigative journalist given the time and resources to chase the story — not just a sound bite — it might never have come to light.

Most people wouldn’t even notice that a murder case was missing from the public court records, but The Denver Post’s David Migoya did. That set off his journalistic alarm bells. After nine months of research, his “Shrouded justice” stories revealed a widespread practice of case suppression that should terrify anyone who believes transparency is the most important check on government.

Judges suppressed thousands of criminal and civil cases removed in just the past few years. Typically, attorneys requested it, but sometimes judges acted on their own initiative. Once suppressed, only the lawyers and the parties to the case could find out anything about them, including when hearings would take place. The cases simply vanished from the public record.

“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,” Migoya concluded.

While judicial suppression is legal, it’s also mostly unregulated. Now that the State Supreme Court has ruled there is no presumption of access to judicial records, suppression is a very powerful tool to keep the public in the dark.

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