Colorado Supreme Court Exempts Itself from State Law
By Arthur Kane | Watchdog.org
Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Nancy Rice asked the Legislature last week for more tax money, but afterwards declined to discuss why the judiciary exempted itself from state open records laws, including how her department spends the hundreds of millions of tax dollars it currently receives.
“The decision has been made not to interview, not to give an interview, and I am not going to do so now, thank you,” said Rice, repeatedly walking away and ignoring questions on the department transparency policy as her colleagues tried to block Watchdog.org from asking questions.
State Rep. Tim Dore, an Elizabeth Republican who sits on the House Judiciary Committee that granted Rice’s request for more than $600,000 tax dollars for a new judge in the 12th judicial district, said the judicial department should be subject to state open records laws like all other government branches.
“There’s no reason to have different structures when it comes to transparency between different branches of government at the state,” said Dore, adding he hadn’t heard of the ruling that self-exempted the judiciary until Watchdog.org told him about it.
Watchdog.org has repeatedly requested interviews with top judicial officials about department records and transparency polices after the appellate court ruled in 2012 that the judiciary, which spends a quarter of a billion in taxpayer money each year, isn’t subject to state open records laws. Department spokesmen denied interviews with judicial administrator Gerald Marroney, and Marroney refused to answer questions after a public meeting last year.
So Watchdog.org traveled to Boulder where Rice teaches a University of Colorado law school class and asked her why she declined an interview on judicial records and transparency policies.
“That’s not right,” she said on Jan. 13 about declining an interview. “You should talk to (judicial spokesman) Rob McCallum. I or someone more knowledgeable on the matter will talk to you.”
The following day, McCallum wrote to say Rice didn’t know who was questioning her and didn’t know the topic despite Watchdog.org explaining it to her, providing a business card and giving her the history of interactions with judicial officials over transparency questions.
“The Chief Justice did deny your interview request in November,” he wrote in an email response. “Yesterday afternoon when you approached her in the parking lot she did not know who you were or what request you were speaking about. She had no idea of the context in which you were speaking with her. I met with her this morning and reviewed your previous request. Your request has again been denied.”
So Watchdog.org decided to interview Rice after the committee hearing where she received more taxpayers’ money for her department.
“Hi Justice Rice, Art Kane again, so you said you were going to do an interview with me about this transparency issue and I…,” Watchdog.org asked the chief justice, who taxpayers paid nearly $148,000 last year.
“I think you misunderstood,” she interjected. “And I don’t believe I agreed to it and I believe now you communicated with my press person, Rob McCallum.”
“Who said you denied,” Watchdog.org said.
“And I am not going to have an interview with you,” she said.
“Okay, well I guess we’ll do it right now, right here,” Watchdog.org responded.
“No, the decision, the decision has been made, sir,” Rice said.
“Well, you’re a public official so I think I’m going ask you some questions anyway, madam,” Watchdog.org responded. “So why do you think the judicial department shouldn’t be required to submit things under state open records laws?”
Rice repeatedly walked away, talked to lawmakers and ignored questions.
The video of the full exchange is below.
After Thursday’s exchange, Watchdog.org submitted an open records request for a series of documents and records that any other state department would have to provide and is waiting for a response.
Rice will not be up before voters for a retention election until 2020