The Colorado Judiciary’s Public Access Committee, which has no members of the general public on it, is scheduled to finalize rules about access to judicial administrative documents in April, years after department judges exempted the judicial offices from transparency laws.
Teresa Tate, assistant legal counsel, said the subcommittee is
expected to finish its work at the end of March at the request of Chief Justice Nancy Rice.
“It’s been a priority for the Judicial Branch,” she told the full committee Friday. “The Chief Justice elevated the priority.”
After the meeting, Tate refused to answer questions about why it took
nearly three years after the appellate ruling to formulate rules. She
asked security to intervene and stop the questioning.
But it might not be up to the judiciary to write its own rules and
policies as lawmakers are starting to take notice of the judiciary
department, which is supposed to interpret and uphold state laws,
exempting itself from transparency statutes.
“I think you bring up a valid point, with all the judicial department
agencies exempt, does it make sense to just do the public defenders’
offices and not the whole of judicial,” state Rep. Rhonda Fields,
D-Aurora, said last week. “You raise some important concerns.”
Fields has sponsored a bill this session requiring the judiciary’s public defender’s office to comply with open records laws.
State Sen. Kent Lambert, R-Berthoud, and state Rep. Tim Dore,
R-Elizabeth, also expressed concern when they learned from Watchdog.org
that judicial officials decided to exempt themselves from state law.
After the meeting, state Supreme Court Justice Monica Marquez, who
chairs the Public Access Committee, left the meeting flanked by a deputy
and refused to answer questions about the committee’s actions or why it
includes no public members.
The rules for administrative records are in five parts, Tate told the
Public Access Committee, including definitions, exemptions, timetable
and process for seeking redress. Part two asserts that the records are
assumed open unless there is an exemption.
Those basics seem to mirror state open records laws but even if they
do, the judicial rules could be changed anytime by judicial officials
without legislative oversight.
Tate told the committee that all judicial offices, except the Colorado Commission on Judicial Discipline,
are participating in writing the access rules, though apparently there
are no members of the public involved in those deliberations either.
“We’re working thoughtfully to create a rule that is open and really works well,” Tate said at the meeting.
Taxpayers paid Tate $76,200 and Marquez $144,687 last year, according to a state personnel database.
Marquez was up for judicial retention last year, winning with about
68 percent of the vote, according Judgepedia.org. So she won’t come
before voters again for another decade.
The full Public Access Committee is scheduled to discuss the rules April 8.
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Judicial public access committee has no public members, won’t answer questions