Supreme Court orders El Paso judge to explain sealing of Planned Parenthood shooting records

By Jeffrey A. Roberts
CFOIC Executive Director

An El Paso County District Court judge has until Feb. 16 to justify his sealing of court records in the case against accused Planned Parenthood shooter Robert Lewis Dear, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled late Wednesday.

Granting a petition signed by more than two dozen news media organizations, the Court ordered Judge Gilbert Martinez to explain why affidavits of probable cause in Dear’s court file shouldn’t be made public.

Martinez rejected a motion to unseal the affidavits on Dec. 30. Citing the ongoing criminal investigation and the privacy of victims and witnesses, he wrote that releasing the documents would be “contrary to public interest.”

The media consortium, in the petition it filed on Jan. 15, argued that Martinez’ order could keep the affidavits secret for more than a year, which would “deprive the public of knowing the most basic facts of what prompted government authorities to arrest Dear, to search his residence, and to file (a) 179-count criminal complaint.”

The petition urged the Supreme Court “to clarify for trial judges throughout Colorado that under both State and Federal constitutions, the public enjoys a presumed right of access to documents on file in Colorado criminal cases after the defendant has been formally charged…”

The petition also noted that Martinez gave no consideration to “less restrictive alternatives,” such as releasing redacted portions of the affidavits.

Dear, 57, is accused of killing three people and wounding nine others during a shooting rampage at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs on Nov. 27. During a court appearance in December, he proclaimed his guilt and called himself “a warrior for the babies.”

The Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition also signed the Supreme Court petition as did the Colorado Press Association, the Colorado Broadcasters Association and the Reporters’ Committee for Freedom of the Press.

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