DENVER (AP) – Colorado lawmakers say they’ll push a measure to force the state judiciary to disclose how it spends its money and disciplines employees.
A bipartisan trio of lawmakers announced this week they’re crafting a bill for next year. Their announcement comes just as the Judicial Department is in the process of adopting new rules over what records are considered public – rules that lawmakers contend don’t go far enough to ensure openness.
Some lawmakers say the courts aren’t transparent enough about things like how much is spent defending people who can’t afford lawyers.
For example, Democratic Rep. Rhonda Fields wants to know how much was spent by attorneys representing James Holmes, who killed 12 moviegoers and wounded dozens of others in her suburban Denver district in 2012.
“I’d like to know how much that trial cost taxpayers,” she said. The trial concluded last month, with Holmes sentenced to life in prison.
Douglas Wilson, who leads the state’s public defender’s office, said officials there can’t release information about the cost to represent Holmes or anyone else.
“We are constitutionally and ethically prohibited from releasing any information about the representation of a client. All lawyers are,” he said.
The judiciary will hold public comment Oct. 1 on the proposed rules and decide later what to adopt. Lawmakers say their bill is still in development and a lot will depend on what rules are approved. But their intent, they say, is for the judicial branch to operate under the same standards imposed on lawmakers and the governor when someone files a public record’s request asking for personnel and financial information.
Rob McCallum, a spokesman for the Judicial Department, said they are not taking a position on what lawmakers are discussing.
Attorney Steve Zansberg, president of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, said in a letter to the judiciary last week that some of the proposed rules don’t match what other state government agencies have to follow under the Colorado Open Records Act.
The Associated Press is a member of the coalition.
Among the concerns listed in Zansberg’s letter:
– No limit on how much can be charged per hour for retrieving records, while other agencies can’t exceed a charge of $30 per hour.
– When a judicial employee is disciplined, the public would be entitled to know only that they were punished but not why.
– A custodian of judicial record could deny records based on internal agency policies, which Zansberg says is too broad.
“All branches of government should be equally transparent to the citizens, with no branch held to a different standard,” said Rep. Polly Lawrence, a Republican who is also working on the bill.
– By Ivan Moreno, AP Writer
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