LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A Douglas County judge has agreed to release a redacted version of a previously sealed probable cause affidavit in an early test of a new state law.
District Judge Sally Pokorny ruled last month that the affidavit in a rape case should be withheld but changed course this week.
Her Thursday ruling comes under a new state law, which became effective in July, that allows judges to release some legal documents that had previously been withheld, the Lawrence Journal-World (http://bit.ly/1GxwqHk ) reported.
“We have a court system that encourages openness,” she said, also noting that much of the sealed information has already been discussed at a court hearing. “For the general public, they rely upon the news media to tell them what is going on at the courthouse.”
In October, the newspaper cited the new statute in filing a motion to challenge the ruling in withholding the affidavit in an alleged rape in downtown Lawrence.
Assistant Douglas County District Attorney Eve Kemple argued on Thursday that the affidavit shouldn’t be released because witnesses and potential witnesses would have access to information that could taint testimony at trial.
“The state has no control over what the newspaper prints,” Kemple said. “(Disclosure) is absolutely going to affect and interfere with a criminal investigation.”
The newspaper’s attorney, Max Kautsch, countered that there’s “no basis to show that disclosure of a reasonably redacted affidavit would interfere with the defendant’s right to a fair trial.”
The newspaper has requested 10 affidavits released since July, including the rape case affidavit. Seven have been redacted and released, and three more are awaiting court action.
Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson said it takes time for all parties to adjust to new procedures whenever new laws are passed. He said that his office will only ask for an affidavit’s sealing as a last resort.
“Obviously the default is to release the affidavits with minimal redactions, however the statute does provide for sealing of the affidavits in certain circumstances,” Branson said.
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