NEWS MEDIA UPDATE · TENTH CIRCUIT · Secret Courts · April 4, 2007
Columbine depositions will be sealed for 20 years
April 4, 2007 · Statements from the families of those involved in the 1999 Columbine school shooting will be transferred to the National Archives and Records Administrations, where they will be sealed for 20 years, a federal judge has ruled.
Monday’s ruling comes after several people objected to a magistrate judge’s prior order that the depositions of the parents of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold be destroyed. The depositions were given as part of two civil lawsuits that resulted from the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado, where Harris and Klebold shot and killed 13 people before committing suicide. Both lawsuits were settled and dismissed in 2003.
In a January hearing, Chief Judge Lewis T. Babcock of the U.S. District Court in Denver suggested that the depositions could be transferred to the National Archives and kept under seal for 25 years instead of being destroyed. Though many said the statements should be made public, Babcock eventually decided they should be kept secret for 20 years to allay concerns that releasing the documents would encourage copycat shootings.
“I am mindful that there is a legitimate public interest in these materials so that similar tragedies may hopefully be prevented in the future,” Babcock wrote in his order. “I conclude, however, that the balance of interests still strikes in favor of maintaining strict confidentiality.”
Families of the Columbine victims disagree with the ruling, as they believe the publishing of such documents could help to prevent further school shootings from occurring.
“There is no rational reason to lock them up,” Brian Rohrbough, the father of a slain student, told The Denver Post. “It’s just the idea that it would be OK in 20 years, and can’t be OK today.”
Babcock also denied an access request by professor Del Elliott of the University of Colorado’s Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence. The Colorado attorney general had asked that the depositions be made available to Elliott, as he is currently performing a study on the Columbine shootings.
The judge rejected a request from the Klebolds and the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office to release the depositions only in redacted form, saying the 20-year delay should address any privacy concerns.
(Rohrbough v. Harris; Taylor v. Solvay Pharmaceuticals Inc.) — AG