Opinion: Holmes trial highlights need for public defender sunshine

From The Colorado Statesman: By State Sen. David Balmer

As People v. James Holmes, Arapahoe County Case 2012CR1522, winds down, we should reexamine sunshine disclosure rules for public defenders.

To his credit, District Attorney George Brauchler is disclosing every tax dollar his office is spending prosecuting Mr. Holmes. See the following link on his 18th Judicial website:

Nevertheless, as far as I can tell, the Holmes defense team isn’t disclosing any of its expenses. Regrettably, due to loopholes in the Colorado Open Records Act, publicly funded defense lawyers are allowed to hide from taxpayers all trial costs, including high-priced consultants and expert witnesses.

In defending Holmes, public defenders are even flying in elementary school teachers from California to testify that Jimmy was a nice little boy. How much is this costing taxpayers?

State Reps. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, and Polly Lawrence, R-Roxborough Park, deserve all the credit for pioneering this issue with their House Bill 15-1101. I was excited that they were considering me as their Senate sponsor for HB 1101, but, unfortunately, their bill was killed in the House Judiciary Committee before ever reaching the Senate.

After HB 15-1101 died, I briefly contemplated running the same bill as a separate Senate late bill. I was talked out of running this late bill because, even if Senate passage had been assured, this bill would have met the same fate in the House Judiciary Committee.

Additionally, as a prime sponsor of 22 bills, I already had “over-asked” for late bills on other topics, and Senate President Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, was justifiably growing impatient with my repeated late-bill requests.

In response to House Bill 15-1011, Chief Justice Nancy Rice of the Colorado Supreme Court proposed some draft interim rules aimed at improving transparency for public defenders. While everyone appreciates her efforts, her proposed interim rules are riddled with such broad exemptions that they will provide virtually no improvement in public disclosure.

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