COVID-19 touched nearly every aspect of our lives in 2020 so of course it affected government transparency and public access to courts in Colorado.
Colorado Criminal Justice Records Act
All we want for Hanukkah/Christmas/Kwanzaa (besides world peace, an end to the pandemic and less partisan rancor) are better open-government laws for Coloradans.
Incidents in Colorado and elsewhere show the limitations of HB 19-1119 as a tool of transparency, accountability and for building trust between law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve. More could be done to ensure the public knows when officers are accused of misconduct or of using excessive force, how those allegations are investigated and whether and how discipline is imposed.
A lawsuit filed by a Colorado State University journalism student alleges the Larimer County coroner wrongfully denied her Colorado Open Records Act request for the autopsy report on a 65-year-old man who was shot to death on a Loveland street corner in 2015.
The sweeping police accountability and transparency bill state lawmakers sent to Gov. Jared Polis will establish new statewide requirements for disclosing footage from body-worn cameras and dashboard cameras in Colorado, ensuring that recordings of alleged officer misconduct are made public in most circumstances.
A split screen might be the best way to think about government transparency in Colorado in 2019. On one side is the ground-breaking new state law that opens records on completed police internal affairs investigations. On the other is the trend among law enforcement agencies in our state to encrypt 100 percent of their scanner transmissions.
Footage from police body-worn cameras clearly fits the definition of criminal justice records in one of Colorado’s freedom-of-information laws: All materials, including recordings, “made, maintained, or kept” by criminal justice agencies. But some district attorneys are relying on more than the Colorado Criminal Justice Records Act to determine whether and when body camera video should be disclosed to the public.
Actual malice. Autopsy reports. The Columbine killers’ “basement tapes.” Stapleton Development Corp. records. The governor’s cellphone bills. The meetings and records of a county retirement board. Tom Kelley waged court battles over these issues and many more as an attorney for The Denver Post, other news organizations and the Colorado Press Association, steadfastly and expertly defending the public’s right to know and the journalist’s right to report.
A Las Animas County District Court judge has ordered the county coroner to pay attorney fees and court costs for improperly denying a Trinidad resident’s request for the autopsy report on a murder victim.
Obtaining public records in Colorado could soon get a bit more expensive. Beginning Monday, July 1, state and local government entities will be allowed to charge a maximum of $33.58 an hour – after the first hour – to fulfill requests made under the Colorado Open Records Act.