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Colorado Courts Determining Public Interest in CCJRA Suits

It seems like Colorado courts are unsure of what their role is or should be in determining the public interest Colorado Criminal Justice Records Act (CCJRA) suits.  The Colorado Supreme Court has reversed track in a twenty eight year span in which standard of review the Court applies to CCJRA records requests denials.  Currently, the standard is an abuse of discretion.  I argue that is a mistake and the system is better served by returning to a de novo standard would be much more appropriate.

Public records statutes are founded upon the philosophy that because governmental decisions belong to the public, the people, as of right, may claim access to them.  Colorado public records law lets the citizen strip away the secrecy that surrounds the law-making process and discover who is making the law, for what purposes, to affect whom.

Under the law record custodians by law are supposed to weigh public and private interest when deciding whether to release criminal justice records.  Colo. Rev. Stat. § 24-72-305(5).  That does not always happen.  The Colorado General Assembly apparently thinks it is a good idea that there are not any checks or balances, and in all practicality only to give private citizens a private right to ask Colorado state courts to force custodians to hand over the documents.  This puts courts into a difficult position of doing the custodian’s job of weighing the public and private interests.

The Colorado Supreme Court has evolved in its view of how to handle these sorts of situations.  Unfortunately, the current view by the Court leaves individuals with little recourse against an obstinate custodian.

This article attempts to trace the how the Colorado Supreme Court treats situations where custodians did not or would not balance private and public interests and how the Court chose to deal with it.

Colorado Supreme Court

— Photo Credit: Jeffrey Beall, Flickr

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