In an open society, government business is the people's business, and citizens have a right to monitor what officials do in their name. But public access to records in Colorado courts — venues where government authorities sometimes decide the fate of people's lives — is uncertain and, too often, nonexistent.

The most recent setback for public access to court records came in June when the Colorado Supreme Court issued a ruling that is at odds with democratic expectations and other rulings from federal courts. The case involved a request by media outlet The Colorado Independent that it be permitted access to four documents in an Arapahoe County District Court trial of defendant Sir Mario Owens, who's on death row. What the Colorado Supreme Court essentially said is that the public has a First Amendment right to attend court proceedings, but, at least in Colorado, it doesn't have a similar right to look at records of what happens in court.

Ballard Spahr attorney Steve Zansberg, the lawyer representing The Colorado Independent, wrote in response to the court, "[t]he decision dramatically departs from the rest of the country in its application of a First Amendment principle that is critical for government transparency."

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