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Colorado court refuses to close jury selection process in Holmes theater-shooting case

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  1. Court Access
A Colorado district court judge on Wednesday rejected the defendant’s request to close the jury selection process for the Aurora…

A Colorado district court judge on Wednesday rejected the defendant’s request to close the jury selection process for the Aurora theater shooting trial.

Arapahoe County Judge Carlos Samour denied the request for complete closure to the public and the media and the prosecution’s request for partial closure of the selection process. Instead, the court opted to open the entire process, only withholding the names of prospective and seated jurors and the jury questionnaires.

A coalition of media organizations formed immediately following the 2012 shooting, which includes The Associated Press, CNN, CBS and The Denver Post, had opposed the requests to close the selection process after the judge invited it to respond.

The attorneys of defendant James Holmes, who is charged with 166 criminal counts after opening fire on a crowded theater, argued that the extraordinary media attention could either intimidate and influence juror answers or reveal responses to other juror candidates.

“Rather than hinder the effectiveness of jury selection, openness and the watchful eye of the media will increase scrutiny and enhance the reliability and fairness of the process,” Samour wrote in his response. “In the Court’s view, sunshine, not darkness, is the appropriate disinfectant here.”

Steve Zansberg, an attorney at Levine Sullivan Koch and Schulz LLP who represented the media coalition, said there have been secrecy issues from the start of this case.

“The very demand for access, because of the unique public interest in this case, tends to cause more closure and secrecy,” Zansberg said. “Judges and attorneys alike, in cases of this magnitude, often mistake the degree to which the whole world is watching.”

Zansberg said he is pleased to see how far the case has come after months of working to unseal court files.

The only core parts of the case that have gone unchallenged by the coalition are a request by the prosecution to have a second psychiatric evaluation of Holmes and the jury questionnaires, which by nature are confidential, Zansberg said.

As Holmes’ jury selection and pretrial hearings progress, Zansberg said the media coalition will likely respond “whenever there is an effort to seal core parts of the court records and close any parts of the judicial process.”