High Court to Planned Parenthood shooting judge: Rethink sealing records

High Court to Planned Parenthood shooting judge: Rethink sealing records

The Colorado Supreme Court has asked the judge overseeing the case against Robert Dear to rethink sealing certain records related to the Black Friday Planned Parenthood clinic shooting in Colorado Springs.

Following the November massacre that left three dead, more than two dozen media outlets signed a petition asking the Supreme Court to intervene when El Paso County District Court Judge Gilbert Martinez sealed records related to the case.

The news organizations want to see affidavits of probable cause in the case, which could offer new details about the accused gunman and his actions. But those records are under seal by Judge Martinez, and when media asked the judge to unseal them he declined, saying it would be “contrary to public interest.” Under Colorado’s open records laws, law enforcement and court officers often decide what’s in the public’s interest when asked for records and documents.

So, up to the Supreme Court the issue went — and now, back down to Judge Martinez it goes.

From the blog of Jeffry Roberts at the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition:

The Colorado Supreme Court on Monday told the judge in the Planned Parenthood shooting case to reconsider his sealing of court records in light of recent developments.

The high court, however, did not rule on whether news organizations have a First Amendment or Colorado constitutional right to inspect the affidavits of probable cause that El Paso County District Court Judge Gilbert Martinez has kept under seal since last fall.

Martinez has defended his decision to keep the affidavits private. But last month, through a filing made by state Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, the judge indicated that redacted versions might be made available because the criminal investigation of suspect Robert Lewis Dear is likely over.

You can read the order in all its legalese here.

So what were these recent developments?

Well, for one, Dear gave an exclusive jailhouse interview with a reporter for The Colorado Springs Gazette, in which he showed no remorse and “proudly took credit for the city’s latest mass shooting.” Meanwhile, in a separate jailhouse interview, the inmate dialed up the local TV station, KKTV, and told them he’d flunked a mental exam and was ready for a “speedy trial” that “will help the victims’ families.”

Responding on Judge Martinez’s behalf to the news media petition, Republican Attorney General Cynthia Coffman said agreeing with the petition would be “unprecedented in Colorado” and “contrary to the great weight of the case law.” She added it would undermine the Colorado Criminal Justice Records Act, the Supreme Court’s rules on access to court records and “the important supervisory powers of the trial courts to protect ongoing criminal investigations and the privacy rights of victims and witnesses,” according to Roberts in a previous post.

But now, the Supreme Court has made its decision, asking Martinez to reconsider.

“Martinez has repeatedly said the documents should remain private,” The Associated Press reports. “But he has also said he would reconsider the issue later.”

 

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About the Author

Corey Hutchins

is a journalist in Colorado, and Columbia Journalism Review's Rocky Mountain correspondent for the United States Project. Follow him on Twitter @CoreyHutchins and email him at CoreyHutchins [at] gmail [dot] com.

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