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City of Aurora v. The Sentinel Colorado

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  1. Freedom of Information

Case Number: 2024CV30439

Court: Arapahoe County District Court

Clients: The Sentinel Colorado, Max Levy

Response to Application Filed: April 16, 2024

Background: On Oct. 13, 2023, a quorum of the Aurora City Council Appointee Evaluation and Compensation Committee met in secret to discuss evaluations and contract negotiations regarding city council appointees, including the city manager and the city attorney. The committee failed to follow proper procedure for executive sessions under Colorado Open Meetings Law and did not provide any prior public notice that the meeting would be held in executive session. 

A few months later, Max Levy, a reporter for The Sentinel Colorado, submitted a public records request seeking the recording of the Oct. 13 meeting. The city of Aurora denied Levy’s request. In an unusual step, the city went even further and filed an application in Arapahoe County District Court asking a judge to issue an order allowing the city to withhold the recording because disclosure would cause “substantial injury to the public.” The city argued, among other things, that the recording was protected from disclosure under a section of the Colorado Open Records Act that shields records that, if publicly released, could stifle open and honest discussions within the government.

In response, The Sentinel filed a counter-lawsuit against the city. Represented by attorneys from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the law firm Zansberg Beylkin LLC, The Sentinel argued that the CEC violated the Colorado Open Meetings Law when it met behind closed doors without first providing public notice about the executive session. The news outlet also argues that the city violated the state’s public records law by failing to turn over the recording of the unlawfully closed meeting. 

Related: In December 2023, a three-judge panel of the Colorado Court of Appeals ordered the Aurora City Council to provide The Sentinel with a recording of an executive session in March 2022 related to the censure of a council member, concluding that the city council violated the state’s Open Meetings Law. The panel’s opinion largely sided with arguments Rachael Johnson, the Reporters Committee’s Local Legal Initiative attorney for Colorado, made on behalf of the news outlet, finding that the city council violated the law by failing to properly announce its executive session and by taking official action in secret.

Updates: On May 15, 2024, District Court Judge Elizabeth Beebe Volz ordered the city of Aurora to turn over the recording of the Oct. 13 executive session to The Sentinel. Because the city failed to provide proper public notice of the executive session, the judge concluded that the recording of the meeting is a public record that is subject to release under the public records law. After the city of Aurora turned over the recording, The Sentinel published a story about the court’s decision and what was discussed during the closed-door committee meeting. 


2024-04-04: Second amended application permitting the city of Aurora to restrict disclosure of certain documents

2024-04-16: The Sentinel’s response to second amended application

2024-05-15: Order re: amended application permitting the city of Aurora to restrict disclosure

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