Court rules change how information is obtained

Editor’s note: The following editorial was written by former Lovell Chronicle Editor Karla Pomeroy, now the editor of the Basin Republican Rustler. It is written for her south Big Horn County readers, but the issue is the same in north Big Horn County. We appreciate how our local clerks and Judge Thomas Harrington are working with us to provide information while upholding the spirit of the Supreme Court rule, however this issue is affecting the press and, thus, citizens across the state of Wyoming. We have substituted our local legislators and our e-mail address into Mrs. Pomeroy’s editorial. – David Peck

Due to new rules of procedure regarding access to court records enacted Jan. 1 by the Wyoming Supreme Court, the Basin Republican Rustler can no longer receive the same Media Disposition Report from Circuit Court it has received for more than six years.

The rules require media to obtain records by asking for files by a defendant’s name or case file. In regard to traffic and other citations where persons simply forfeit fines instead of appearing in court it is nearly impossible to obtain names from all other law enforcement. As such, at this time, the Basin Republican Rustler will be unable to publish those types of citations.
The Basin Municipal Court does not fall under the Supreme Court jurisdiction and those reports will still be available as seen in this week’s issue.

Under Rule 12 — Compiled information — the court has determined that the Media Dispositions Report is a “compiled” file. We are working to try and obtain that information through other means, including requesting permission to continue to obtain the Media Dispositions Report. This request was submitted late last week (Jan. 7).

The Basin Republican Rustler will continue to provide court news on other cases such as driving under the influence, drug charges, assaults and more.

This information is public record and anyone has the right to contact the court and ask to see citations or files on any specific person unless the judge seals that file.

We feel it is important to keep you informed of what criminal acts are being committed by other residents in order to help keep you safe and aware of what is happening in your community.

Many newspapers across the state and country no longer publish traffic citations. We feel it provides as much public benefit as other criminal cases.

Publishing any court case provides a public benefit in the following ways:

First, it lets the public know that our law enforcement, prosecutors and courts are busy protecting and serving.
For DUIs, assaults, sexual assaults and other crimes against a person, it provides information so residents know to be aware that these events are occurring in their neighborhood, city and county. It lets them know who to be aware of and who to protect their children from, specifically with crimes against children, whether it be child neglect, abuse or molestation.
Providing information on speeding and other traffic violations provides an awareness to the public to slow down, be aware of their surroundings and, it is hoped, reduce the number of traffic infractions that occur, thus making the roads safer for everyone.

Because of the changes in the rules, which can be found on the court’s website at http://www.courts.state.wy.us/, you will notice a dramatic absence of information in this week’s Circuit Court report. We are currently attending court in person and will be reporting on those who have been sentenced, while keeping track of defendants arraigned in court to be able to provide information on those sentenced in court to you at a later time.

We are trying to be consistent with our policy when we receive the Media Disposition Report, which is to publish cases that have been disposed of in Circuit Court. The exceptions to these cases are major felonies, such as recently the charges against Marvin Tilley. Those cases will be published as separate stories as they have in the past … as we become aware of them and can ask for them by name.

As we wrote to the Court Administrator, while we appreciate that the clerk’s time is valuable and we can sit through court and get names of offenders and then take up the court’s time in asking to see the complete files on each of the offenders, we believe the compiled report is a time saver for both the clerk’s office and the media.

Another rule change — Redactions from Court Records — allows us only the year of a person’s birth rather than the entire birth date, thus information on a defendant’s age cannot be exact as we will be unable to determine if a person has had a birthday this year. Someone born Jan. 5, 1980, is actually 31, now, and if we are only given 1980, we will have to say John Doe, 30 or 31.
Some clerks have begun redacting the entire birth date, which makes it hard to distinguish between persons with the same name.

As we continue to fight this battle to provide information we believe is important to you, the public, you may voice your opinion to your legislators and the Court Administrator — Rep. Elaine Harvey —harvey00@tctwest.net; Sen. Ray Peterson — rpeterson@wyoming.com; and Court Administrator Joann Odendahl — jodendahl@courts.state.wy.us. Let them know you feel the information is valuable to the public and that you would like to continue to see it published in your local newspaper.
Let us know, as well, if you would like to us to continue to try and provide this information at lcnews@tctwest.net.

—Karla Pomeroy

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