Our view: Let’s not make a deal
At issue:Judge Shelley Hill ruled in favor of the First Amendment and ordered transcripts from a closed hearing to be released.
Our view:The district attorney should not have pursued a plea deal with an accused sex offender and the DA should stop trying to keep public information secret.
It was a First Amendment victory when District Judge Shelley Hill ruled March 16 that the court should not have closed a Jan. 26 court hearing that outlined the plea deal offered to Miguel Diaz-Martinez, a 60-year-old man charged with 41 felonies and accused of exchanging drugs for sex with underage girls, by the District Attorney’s Office.
Hill sided with the newspaper and ordered the transcripts released to the public, as requested by Steamboat Pilot & Today. In making her ruling, Hill said, “once the public is excluded, that First Amendment right has been abridged.” She went on to say that, without freedom of the press and without public scrutiny, government, including the judicial branch and trials, “could easily become secret proceedings where fundamental fairness could always be suspect.”
As Hill pointed out in court, there will always be a clash between the public’s right to know as outlined in the First Amendment and a person’s right to a fair trial under the Sixth Amendment, but with Barkey, it seems as if this divide runs a little deeper.
The district attorney has established a pattern of attempting to keep records out of the public eye in the course of his investigations. Sometimes, his actions are justified, but other times, he is attempting to seal records or keep proceedings closed when, by law, under the Colorado Open Records Act, those documents or proceedings are public.
In those cases, this newspaper has a strong track record of doggedly pursuing that information, even if it means the paper has to go to court to obtain it.
A prime example of this was in 2014, when Barkey — on behalf of the coroner — sued Steamboat Pilot & Today to keep from having to release the autopsy report for a 3-year-old boy who died in a Steamboat Springs campground due to neglect. The court ruled in favor of the newspaper, because autopsies under CORA are public records — something the DA should have known but decided to test, nonetheless.
If Barkey had followed state law and released the autopsy as requested, Routt County taxpayers would have been saved $10,287.85 in legal fees.
In this most recent case involving Diaz-Martinez, a man accused of heinous crimes involving potentially a dozen victims, we don’t understand Barkey’s motivation for attempting to keep the plea deal secret.
In our opinion, this is a case where the DA needs to take the perpetrator to court and seek a maximum sentence, not barter down the man’s time behind bars.
We realize prosecutors must make decisions about what cases to prosecute and what cases to plea down. Sometimes, those decisions are based on the finite budgets their offices are given, because taking a case to trial is costly, and there is no guarantee of a guilty verdict.
But in our opinion, there are certain crimes that must be decided by a jury, and the Diaz-Martinez case seems to be one of those.
The man is accused of victimizing women — apparently preying upon their addiction to drugs to obtain sex. The charges against him include sex assault, patronizing a prostituted child, inducement of child prostitution, contributing to the delinquency of a minor and sexual assault on a child with a pattern of abuse.
A person who commits brutal and immoral crimes like these needs to face the maximum sentence and not be given the opportunity to plead guilty to only eight of the 41 felonies he’s charged with and released for good behavior after 18.2 years so that he can offend again.
This is not the type of crime that should be hidden from the public’s view, especially because of its impact on so many young women in our community. We sincerely hope Barkey will consider the laws governing the public’s right to know as he makes decisions about sealing documents and withholding information going forward.
Judge Hill’s ruling should send a strong message that any attempts by the district attorney to keep information from the public and the press will not be allowed. Barkey’s job is to uphold the laws of the state, including those that pertain to open records and the public’s right to know.
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