Our View: CORA should guide judicial branch rules
Due to a 2012 court decision in the Gleason v. Judicial Watch case, Colorado’s judicial branch is no longer subject to the Colorado Open Records Act that allows public access to records that provide information about how taxpayer-funded agencies operate.
With no rules regulating public access to judicial branch records in place, the Colorado Supreme Court plans to remedy this void by adopting a set of rules that will establish new guidelines for determining public access to the judicial department’s administrative records. A hearing on these new rules will be held Thursday, in Denver.
Sections of the proposed rules differ materially from the tenets laid out in CORA and do not provide adequate public access to information the public deserves to know about the judicial branch functions. And this is why the Steamboat Today is joining hundreds of news organizations across the state in asking the Supreme Court to take another look at the proposed rules and amend them appropriately to ensure the public and the press have proper access to information about activities of this important branch of state government.
The Colorado Press Association, the Colorado Broadcasters Association and the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition have banded together to file formal comments about the proposed rules with the state Supreme Court, and Thursday, attorney Steve Zansberg, who also serves as CFOIC president, will speak at the hearing about the proposed rules on behalf of the state’s major media organizations.
We think it is misguided for the state’s judicial branch to create a new set of standards regulating openness and transparency that differ from CORA, which the courts routinely uphold in cases involving the legislative and executive branches of government. Based on the substance of the rules proposed by the courts, it would appear the state’s judicial leaders think they should be bound by lesser standards when it comes to public openness and accountability than the state’s other two branches.
In the comments already filed with the Supreme Court, Zansberg gives the reasons the judicial branch should use CORA as the baseline standard when creating its new rules, and we agree with that premise. In a democracy governed by three separate branches, it is imperative that residents of Colorado and the press have fair access to information about what their state government is doing at all levels. This information allows the public to participate in the democratic process, make informed voting decisions and learn what government bodies are doing on their behalf.
Zansberg also asks that the judicial branch explain and justify why certain rules diverge from CORA. For example, the time of response for public records requests is lengthened from 72 hours to 10 days under the proposed judicial branch rules. There also are no established charges for research and retrieval fees and no restrictions on the amount agencies can charge. And there are two public offices — the Judicial Discipline Commission and the Independent Ethics Commission — that are exempt from any rules providing for public access to records of these two offices.
In particular, Zansberg calls on judicial branch leaders to explain why “the official conduct of the approximately 4,000 public employees within the Judicial Branch should be treated materially different from that of the other two branches of Colorado’s state government and all political subdivisions of the state.” We think it’s a fair question that deserves a reasoned answer before rules are adopted.
As a member of the Colorado Press Association, the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition and as a champion for open and transparent government, the Steamboat Today stands side-by-side with other Colorado news organizations in calling for the state’s judicial branch to be more transparent and adopt rules that align themselves with the basic principles of CORA to ensure all Coloradans have fair and adequate access to information about the state’s third branch of government.
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