U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Colorado newspaper wins access to recording of closed city council session

Incident Details

December 7, 2023

The Sentinel Colorado newspaper is entitled to a recording of a closed Aurora City Council meeting that the council had earlier refused to release, the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled on Dec. 7, 2023.

The city council held the closed meeting on March 14, 2022, to discuss whether to censure Council member Danielle Jurinsky for violating the city charter and the council’s rules of order, after Jurinsky criticized the city’s police chief on a talk radio show, calling her “trash,” the Sentinel reported. The council voted at the session not to censure Jurinsky.

The Sentinel reported that reporter Max Levy filed a records request for a recording of the session on March 18. The city clerk denied the request on March 22, claiming that because an outside law firm hired by the council was present to advise on the investigation into Jurinsky’s conduct, the session involved “privileged attorney/client communication” and was therefore “exempt from disclosure.”

The Sentinel, represented by Rachael Johnson of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, sued the clerk, arguing that the city violated Colorado’s Open Meetings Law by secretly voting on Jurinsky’s censure and without advance public notice about the nature of the session.

A district court reviewed the recording and ordered the city council to turn it over to the Sentinel, then reversed its decision at the request of the city council, ruling that the council had undone its violation of the Open Meetings Law by holding a regular meeting to discuss the censure on March 28.

The Sentinel appealed, and the Colorado Court of Appeals ultimately reversed the district court’s decision, agreeing with the newspaper that the city council had violated the Open Meetings Law and ordering the city council to release the recording.

The city can still decide to appeal the decision to the Colorado Supreme Court, the Sentinel reported.

“We’re pleased that the Court of Appeals saw this executive session for what it was: an unlawful meeting that prevented the community from observing the city council as it conducted the public’s business,” RCFP attorney Rachael Johnson said. “The Sentinel looks forward to the release of the recording.”

Levy and Sentinel publisher and editor Dave Perry did not respond to emailed requests for comment.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected].