Some lawmakers want to force more transparency on the state judicial branch


Colorado Capitol

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DENVER -- How much did the state spend to defend James Holmes? What does it cost to run the state's courts? Where does taxpayer money go? Even for those who file all the right paperwork, you might never end up getting answers.

The reason for that is a hot topic among local lawmakers.

The state's courts play by a different set of rules than the rest of government when it comes to giving citizens information. Colorado State Rep. Polly Lawrence sees it as an injustice.

“A citizen can request information from executive and legislative branches, but be denied that same access by the judicial branch,” Lawrence said.

The judiciary branch is exempt from the Colorado Open Records Act. Lawrence is one of several state lawmakers who wants to force the courts to be more transparent.

'We don't know how they are allocating their resources, we don't know what they are spending on personnel,” Lawrence said.

State Rep. Rhonda Fields says the same. She is part of the bipartisan effort to draft a bill and has been vocal about the need for better access, most recently arguing taxpayers have the right to know how much money was spent by lawyers defending James Holmes in the Aurora theater shooting trial.

“I don't think it's out of order for the public to better understand how the judicial branch is using their taxpayer dollars,” Lawrence said.

On Thursday, the Colorado Supreme Court will hold a public hearing on new rules governing public access. Lawrence said those policies will not be enough.

There is something to be said for the current rules, according to longtime Denver criminal defense lawyer Phil Cherner. He fears it could hurt the public defender's office or other defense attorneys when it comes to confidentiality.

“They are required to maintain the same confidentiality obligations that the rest of us have to maintain and that means just about giving up nothing about their clients,” Cherner said.

Lawrence said she and several lawmakers will start drafting the bill later this month and plan to reach out to the judiciary branch for input.

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