Secret Agents

Jeffco is a public-records embarrassment.

Had Lewis only waited, he could have saved himself some dough -- and plenty of aggravation. Later that year, the note was leaked to Vanity Fair and Newsweek, and from there it went straight onto the Internet and out into the world. Instead, Lewis was dragged through Jeffco's legal system for almost two years before he took a deal: He'd admit to "ethical wrongdoing" and the Globe would donate $100,000 to the University of Colorado School of Journalism, which would use it to pay for an undergraduate ethics class. (The money would have been better spent cleaning up CU's own open-records problem, including a still-closed fifty-year-old file listing suspected communist sympathizers at the university.) Miller kept fighting -- and finally, in June 2001, a Jeffco jury took all of an hour to acquit him. (His lawyer was Gary Lozow, who's currently representing the Klebolds.)

Despite its loss in court, Jeffco's not about to let all that legal research go to waste. And should one of those pesky tabloids convince some employee -- of a copy shop, a photo lab, the sheriff's office -- to sell the very documents that are now leaking out of the county for free, Jeffco will be ready.

Even if it wasn't on April 20, 1999.

Snow Job

A public official wanting to inspect public documents? That's not natural!

Not according to Grand County District Judge Richard Doucette, anyway, who in December ruled that Denver's auditor, Don Mares, was not authorized to see certain records he'd requested from the Winter Park Recreation Association, the nonprofit that's run Winter Park for the City of Denver for 52 years, because the auditor didn't qualify as a "natural person" under the Colorado Open Records Act.

Not surprisingly, Mares begged to differ, and he asked the Colorado Supreme Court to overturn Doucette's decision; that appeal is in the works. In the meantime, Mares is trying to close the legal loophole that stymied his WPRA request; his office is supporting HB 1342, which would give public officials the same access to public records that private individuals supposedly enjoy -- not just in the case of Winter Park, but in many Colorado records requests (see Columbine, above).

The WPRA responded to that gambit by hiring a lobbyist to push an amendment that would require every public entity in the state to designate a single official as its CORA gatekeeper, who would weigh every public-records request made by any other employee of that entity. And rather than open up access to public records, the suggested amendment has the potential to slam the door shut.

But that's not the intention, according to Joan Christensen, communications director for Winter Park. "The open-records law exists so that the public can keep track of what the government is doing -- not so the government can keep track of what it's doing," she says. "Don Mares asked for literally millions of pieces of paper. We can't have eighteen people doing that. As a practical consideration, there has to be one entity that has the ability to request information."

So far, though, state senator Joan Fitz- Gerald, who's sponsoring the bill in the Senate, has stood firm. And this is no time to give up ground, because as the city continues to negotiate the deal that will allow Intrawest, a Canadian corporation, to run Winter Park, the public has a stronger interest than ever in the proceedings -- and so should the taxpayers' independently elected watchdog, the auditor.

Mares himself testified before the House when it voted on the measure. "Living proof that he's a natural person," says the auditor's director of communications, Cher Roybal Haavind. "He just thinks a public official should be entitled to the same access as anyone on the street."

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