Case Number: CR002763
Court: Denver District Court
Client: Colorado News Collaborative
Objection Filed: Nov. 9, 2023
Background: In October 2023, Denver cardiologist Stephen Matthews was charged with drugging and sexually assaulting 13 women he met on dating apps. He pled not guilty to the charges.
During two preliminary hearings in the case, documentary exhibits were admitted into evidence and provided in open court with members of the public present. However, the Denver District Court issued an order restricting public access to many of those records, citing “a substantial interest in shielding third parties’ private, sensitive information from the public eye, as well as in protecting the individuals, who have no connection to this case, from potential physical harm, embarrassment, harassment, intimidation, tampering, and other risks arising from the individuals’ public association with this high-profile matter.”
The court gave interested parties 14 days to submit any objections to making the order permanent, after which it will hold a hearing on the issue or enter a ruling based on the pleadings.
On behalf of the Colorado News Collaborative, Rachael Johnson, the Reporters Committee’s Local Legal Initiative attorney for Colorado, filed an objection to the court’s order shielding the exhibits from the public. The objection argues that the order does not comply with a rule that requires criminal courts in Colorado to apply a strong presumption of public access to judicial records in criminal cases. It also argues that the public has a stronger right of access in criminal cases where evidence and documents have already been admitted in pre-trial proceedings in open court.
Quote: “It is vital that the press be able to inform the public and affected industries about this case and help the public understand how our system of justice functions. Access to the Exhibits already presented in open court is essential to the news media’s ability to explain the process and eventual verdict to the public. The Court’s retroactive sealing order undermines the fundamental principles upon which the presumptions of public access to court records are founded and would prevent the press from doing its job properly.”