State judicial branch is drafting new rules for releasing its own administrative records

By Jeffrey A. Roberts
CFOIC Executive Director

While lawmakers consider whether to make the state public defender’s office subject to the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA), the state judiciary is in the process of writing a new set of rules governing access to most of its administrative records.

Members of the Public Access Committee of the Colorado Judicial Branch will review a draft of the proposed rules, prepared by a subcommittee, at a special meeting on April 8, committee members learned Friday.

The final policy, setting parameters for the release of records on judicial spending, salaries and other administrative matters, will be promulgated by the Colorado Supreme Court. Because of a court ruling nearly three years ago, existing state statutes on access to other types of government records still won’t apply to the judicial branch unless the General Assembly intervenes in the meantime.

In Gleason v. Judicial Watch, the state Court of Appeals in 2012 concluded that “CORA does not include the judiciary within the terms ‘state’ and ‘state agency,’” exempting the judicial branch from the open-records act.

This means that some basic information as to how the judicial branch spends taxpayer dollars is not available to the public. For instance, the public defender’s office has cited the Gleason decision in refusing requests from journalists who want to know how much is being spent to keep Aurora movie theater shooter James Holmes from the death penalty.

HB 15-1101 addresses that particular issue. The bipartisan bill, sponsored by Republican Rep. Polly Lawrence of Douglas County and Democratic Rep. Rhonda Fields of Aurora, would make the records of the state public defender and the office of alternate defense counsel subject to CORA, except for privileged attorney-client records, as defined by the proposal.

Lawrence and other lawmakers have been surprised to learn that all aspects of the judiciary are exempt from CORA. It remains to be seen whether any will introduce legislation to open the records of other judicial agencies.

The judicial branch’s Public Access Committee, chaired by Supreme Court Justice Monica Márquez, typically meets quarterly at the State Court Administrator’s Office in Denver. Its meetings are open to the public (although the committee itself does not include any members of the public).

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