DECEMBER 30, 2009
In a victory for a power-wielding lawmaker who conducts public business in private, a Colorado appellate court has upheld a ruling shielding the state’s governor from disclosing cellular phone records that include hundreds of calls made during the course of his official duties.
Since taking office in 2007, Governor Bill Ritter has dodged Colorado’s Open Records Act by using a private cell phone to conduct official state business and last year a local newspaper sued to reveal who exactly the governor has been calling on taxpayer dime. The paper requested 19 months of phone records that contain the numbers of those Ritter has discussed state business with in the course of his work.
The unscrupulous lawmaker rarely uses his state-issued cell phone—which is definitely subject to open records law—to make calls and conveniently uses a private phone—which is not subject to open records law—to conduct most official business. He claims providing the records for his personal phone would invade his privacy even though the newspaper wants only the calls related to official business and has given him the option of redacting the others.
A Denver District Judge agreed with the governor last October and dismissed the suit, saying the phone logs aren’t public records under state law. The newspaper appealed and this month the Colorado Court of Appeals upheld the ruling, though it acknowledged that the governor does in fact use the private cell phone to make the majority of his work-related calls.
Demanding public scrutiny of the logs because they could contain information about the governor’s official duties is beyond the state’s open records law, the court wrote in its 20-page decision. "If the possibility of some future official use could transform an otherwise private document, such as a personal bill, into a public record . . . then almost any document kept by a public official could be subject to" public records laws, chief Justice Janice Davidson wrote in the opinion.
Governor Ritter was embroiled in a separate controversy this year when he nominated his scandal-plagued chief of staff, who he is rumored to be having an extramarital affair with, to be the state’s top federal prosecutor. Stephanie Villafuerte abruptly withdrew her nomination to be Colorado’s next U.S. Attorney when the media exposed her role in illegally accessing a restricted database involving an illegal immigrant drug dealer who sexually assaulted a child after Ritter, then Denver District Attorney, gave him a probation deal.
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