Court records in Colorado

The Estate of Denial (remember when most blogs had great names like that?) points to this article documenting a change that began in 2006 in the Colorado courts regarding access to court documents.

Court reporter Alan Prendergast describes the effect on his own court reporting of these changes:

Often what results from this is not a total shutdown of records but a process of slow torture that amounts to effective denial. On a recent visit to the Arapahoe County courts, I humbly submitted my request for several criminal records. I was told each of the records would have to be redacted, page by page, by a court clerk to eliminate any personal information. No problem, I’d dealt with this before, was prepared for a slight delay, and knew there was slim chance any such information would be found in these files. They’d have to be read just the same, the clerk explained, and also reviewed by “our criminal team.” That was a new wrinkle, but okay. Except after some further checking, she announced this was all going to take several days, and one file was so voluminous it was doubtful that I would get to see it before the next Olympics.

Prendergast also mentions the privacy rights of sexual assault victims:

For years, hand-wringers in the judicial system have fretted over largely hypothetical “privacy issues” involving court files. State courts now routinely redact the names of sexual assault victims in court records, for example — even though newspapers have voluntary but mightily consistent policies of not publishing such names.

In 2009, how much does it matter that newspapers have a voluntary policy of not publishing these names? What about bloggers, who have a proven tendency not to take seriously the policies of newspapers?

If society wants to help rape victims make the difficult decision to report what happened to law enforcement, it needs to protect their privacy. If the only thing standing between the names of rape victims being made public is the voluntary discretion of an increasingly small part of the publishing world, I can see why Colorado’s courts would have made the decision to exempt those names from public disclosure.

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2 responses to “Court records in Colorado

  1. Alan Prendergast

    Thanks for raising this issue on your site. Allow me to clarify one point on the original posting. I don’t know of any journalists who have a problem with the redacting of names of sexual assault victims. I don’t see bloggers routinely “outing” victims, in any case. (Few would bother to go to the courthouse for records, for one thing; many simply riff off the content done by actual reporters.) But I was not trying to make a case that sexual victims aren’t entitled to privacy, or that such redaction wouldn’t be a legitimate concern of the courts. The real issue is extending the “privacy” argument to all sorts of information and making a specious claim that data must be protected because of possible identity theft, even though there is no evidence that those who use court files are trying to steal the identities contained therein. This line of reasoning becomes a pretext for effective denial of access to public records.

  2. Pingback: Court records and sexual assault victims « Open Records

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