Open records battle waged in court
The towns of Eagle and Vail are shielding public information and they have no legal right to do it, an attorney for the Vail Daily said in a hearing Thursday before Judge Richard Hart.
Attorney Rohn Robbins argued that Eagle and Vail are shielding records that should remain public, under state law. The Vail Daily asked for dispatch records to the address of the woman accusing Los Angeles Laker guard Kobe Bryant of sexual assault.
Robbins asserted Eagle and Vail were overstepping their legal bounds by sealing the records, and that the records were administrative, not part of a criminal proceeding.
Town of Eagle Attorney Ed Sands argued that the records were part of the criminal investigation, and that releasing them would damage the investigation and the alleged victim.
As he was making his arguments, Sands presented a sealed envelope to Hart that he said contained three reports regarding two incidents.
“They’re sealed because they have nothing to do with the investigation, but it would do irreparable harm if the documents were revealed,” Sands told reporters after the hearing. “They are of a highly sensitive nature. You would understand if the documents were revealed.”
That, countered Robbins, is not the law. He said the burden is on the custodian of the records, in this case Eagle and Vail, to explain why the public cannot have access to the records. He said the public should not need to explain why it should have access.
Sands said the Eagle Police Department was not attempting to cover anything up. He said acting Police Chief Gary Ward acted properly when he exercised his jurisdiction in not providing the records.
Sands said Bryant and his attorney will have access to the records in due process.
“Defense attorneys may get everything; the public and press might not,” Sands told reporters.
In his closing, Robbins countered that freedom of speech and freedom of the press is not just a large issue, it is THE issue.
No decision was handed down by Judge Richard Hart. Attorneys have until Tuesday to file additional briefs, and until next Friday to answer those briefs.
Daily Managing Editor Don Rogers said the paper sought the records while tracking leads about the case that may or may not prove relevant.
He said the paper would not automatically rush to print the information if it were turned over. Instead the paper would evaluate the reports for their possible connection to the case and whether they fit coverage of the case, he said, as it does with all leads.
“I have a lot of respect for Eagle and Vail’s government officials, and I understand their position,” Rogers said. “But I don’t think they should also serve as editors when the information we seek generally is readily available to the public and they’ve decided it has no relationship to the specific investigation.”