Colorado Judicial Branch urged to retain free, online access to civil court records

On Jan. 5, Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, Colorado Press Association, Colorado Broadcasters Association, Society of Professional Journalists – Colorado Pro Chapter and Colorado News Collaborative sent the following letter to Steven Vasconcellos, Colorado State Court administrator, regarding online public access to civil court records:

Dear Mr. Vasconcellos,

Free remote access to civil court records for all Coloradans has been a rare positive outgrowth of the COVID-19 pandemic, and we applaud the Colorado Judicial Branch for taking that important step.

Prior to the pandemic, journalists and other members of the public looking to acquire civil court documents had to travel to specific county courthouses or the Colorado Supreme Court’s law library in Denver and pay a fee to have those documents printed off. This was problematic for multiple reasons: It required a substantial commitment of time to drive to a courthouse or downtown Denver, particularly if someone lived far away or a reporter covered large regions of the state; the law library was the only place where someone could look up court filings from anywhere in Colorado; and because downloading documents was not permitted, printing fees could reach $100 or more if you needed copies of multiple case files or complex pieces of litigation.

Other options also were problematic. The third-party online subscription services used by attorneys can be exorbitantly expensive for journalists, researchers, pro se litigants and many others. And the docket search function on only allows users to search for cases and parties; it does not provide access to the actual documents themselves.

Ultimately, the system Colorado had in place was environmentally harmful, impeded journalists’ ability to do their jobs in a timely fashion and overall limited the public’s access to public records.

To read more, go to Colorado Freedom of Information Council’s website.