The Colorado Supreme Court has ordered a judge to explain why he’s keeping certain records in the Planned Parenthood shooting case secret. The High Court gave El Paso District Court Judge Gilbert Martinez until Feb. 16 to answer in writing.
The ruling comes after more than two dozen media outlets signed a petition asking the Supreme Court to get involved.
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 get to decide what’s in the public’s interest when asked for records and documents.
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.”
They want those records because law enforcement officials haven’t provided detailed information about what exactly happened on Black Friday when Robert Dear, 57, gunned down three people and barricaded himself in a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs for five hours before succumbing to police. Media hope examining documents in the case could help uncover new details for the public.
But Judge Martinez rejected that motion, and so the media consortium went over his head to the State Supreme Court, arguing the judge was in violation of the U.S. and Colorado Constitutions. Both constitutions give the public a presumed right of access to records and documents after someone in Colorado has been formally charged with a crime.
In December, Dear made several outbursts in court, shouting that he is guilty and calling himself a “warrior for the babies.”
The latest news in the case came earlier this month when the unkept, wild-eyed inmate made a jailhouse phone call to a Denver TV station and told them, among other things, that he thought the FBI had been breaking into his mobile home in Hartsel and cutting holes in his clothes. The FBI declined to comment, citing a gag order.
Dear is currently awaiting a mental health evaluation, which could take months.
According to the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, the media groups involved include in-state and national outlets such as ABC, The Associated Press, CNN, CBS, KCNC-TV, The Colorado Springs Independent, The Denver Post, Dow Jones, First Look Media, Fox News, Gannett, The Gazette, KDVR-TV, KMGH-TV, KRDO-TV, KTTV-TV, KUSA-TV, KWGN-TV, NBC Universal, The New York Times, Rocky Mountain PBS, E.W Scripps, TEGNA, Tribune Media and The Washington Post.
[Photo credit: Brian Turner via Flickr]