CFOIC, NFOIC, news organizations file brief supporting The Colorado Independent’s SCOTUS petition

A brief filed Thursday by the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition and several news and journalism organizations asks the U.S. Supreme Court to hear a First Amendment records case, deemed “vital to Colorado journalism,” that was brought by The Colorado Independent.

Prepared pro bono by attorney Gregg Leslie and the First Amendment Clinic at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, the friend-of-the-court brief argues that the Colorado Supreme Court erred in rejecting the news nonprofit’s request to unseal court records alleging misconduct in the prosecution of death row inmate Sir Mario Owens.

The state’s high court, it says, failed to properly evaluate whether the public has a qualified constitutional right of access to the records. Allowing that decision to stand “significantly limits the right of access to court records in the state.”

The Colorado Supreme Court’s five-page opinion, issued June 11, was in response to The Independent’s effort to get a trial judge to justify the continued sealing of four documents in the Owens case, including a transcript of a closed-door hearing and the judge’s order on a substantive motion.

As The Independent’s attorney, CFOIC president Steve Zansberg argued that Coloradans have a qualified First Amendment right of access to court records, citing a 1966 case in which the Longmont Times-Call challenged the constitutionality of a state statute that restricts access to court pleadings to only the parties in a case and their counsel. The Colorado Supreme Court held then that to construe the statute as it was written “would raise serious questions of constitutional law involving freedom of the press.” It referred to the 1966 opinion in a ruling years later, writing that the court had applied a “constitutional interpretation of the statute.” (Read more…)