The Colorado Independent took a step yesterday toward winning its battle for the release of court documents illuminating why prosecutors messed up a death penalty case in suburban Denver against Sir Mario Owens, who was found guilty in 2005 of killing two people.
Arapahoe-County-area prosecutors George Brauchler and his predecessor Carol Chambers wrongfully withheld evidence that might have helped Owens’ defense, according to a Colorado court ruling. But the documents explaining the screw-up were sealed.
The Independent asked a court to unseal the records, but a judge said no, arguing that Owens would have been found guilty anyway, even if his defense had been given access to the records. Yesterday, the Colorado Supreme Court asked the judge to explain his legal reasoning for keeping the records sealed.
But here’s the interesting part, from a political perspective.
Not only are the prosecutorial-misconduct documents themselves sealed, but so are documents from Brauchler’s office, filed in response to the Independent’s lawsuit, outlining his office’s arguments for keeping the documents sealed.
That’s kind of jaw-dropping for two reasons. First, Brauchler is running for the job of Colorado attorney general. And second, as Susan Greene, the Independent’s editor, wrote a post about the case, “Brauchler’s chief deputy wrote our lawyer, Steve Zansberg to say his office fears that the documents, if unsealed, would be used ‘to gratify private spite or – promote public scandal’ and ‘to serve as reservoirs of libelous statements for press consumption.'”
In other words, Brauchler’s office admits that he doesn’t want them released for political reasons.
So it’s no surprise that Brauchler, a Republican who dropped out of the race to be governor last year to pursue the attorney general office, isn’t talking about why he wants to keep them sealed.
Yet, at the same time, he’s saying publicly that “I will answer any question ever about what we do.”
“Once you’ve announced you’re running for office, there are certain people who are going to view every decision you make as having been motivated by politics,” Brauchler told KNUS host (and Brauchler friend) Steffan Tubbs Feb. 6. “Even this, someone sitting there right now, recording this, the Brauchler Haters for AG Group or whatever, and they are like, ‘He’s just talking about that.’ Look, this is just who I am. I’m the DA out here. I love the job that I do. It’s an awesome responsibility. And I will answer any question ever about what we do.” [listen below.]
Any question ever? Why not tell us why you won’t release the documents? Brauchler’s office did not return an email seeking an answer to this question. (He’s stated that Owens received a fair trial.)
Undoubtedly, Brauchler, who’s known for being readily available to talk to reporters and others, may have legal reasons why he wants to keep the Owens’ documents sealed. But it looks as if politics is playing a big role, if you believe his deputy. But who knows without seeing the docs?
And regardless, as Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition Executive Director Jeff Roberts told Greene, access to such court documents is “only way Coloradans can know whether the system is working properly.”
At the end of the day, beyond one election, that’s what really matters here.
Listen to Brauchler on KNUS Feb. 6: