Thursday, June 23, 2011

Colorado High Court Says Public Can't View Ex-Guv's Cell Phone Records

Official photo of Colorado Governor Bill Ritte...Image via WikipediaBy a 4-2 margin, the Colorado Supreme Court this week held in Denver Post Corp. v. Ritter (Case No. 10SC94) that the personal cell phone records of former Governor Bill Ritter are exempt from disclosure under the Colorado Open Records Act ("CORA") [C.R.S. secs. 24-72-201 to 24-72-206].

Factors influencing the High Court were that Gov. Ritter received no reimbursement from the state for the purchase of the phone, kept billing statements for payment purposes only and did not turn over the statements to any state agency. Writing for the majority in its 28-page opinion, Justice Gregory Hobbs said the Denver Post failed to show the cell phone logs were public records, which CORA defines as: "writings made, maintained or kept by the state...for use in the exercise of functions required or authorized by law."

The Post sought the phone records in 2008. Gov. Ritter produced logs from his state-purchased Blackberry, but declined to turn over his personal cell phone bills. The monthly phone records compiled by the carrier include more than 10,000 calls that indicate the date and length of conversations, but do not identity the parties involved or the substance of the calls.

The majority opinion stated that the newspaper had not shown Gov. Ritter retained the personal cell phone bills in his capacity as Colorado's chief executive and that the burden of proof was not on him to prove that the phone bills were not a public record.  The Court noted that it was the province of  the legislature to amend CORA if it chooses to include personal cell phone bills of elected officials as subject to disclosure.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Nancy Rice said the majority's holding undermines the transparency sought by the enactment of CORA and "provides an incentive for public officials  to shield records of phone conversations about official business by intermingling them with records of personal calls."

A tip of the hat to the Website of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press for reporting on this decision.

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