If a former graduate student is known as a smart, brilliant and quiet person who later did a complete one-eighty by heinously killing 12 people and hurting 58 others at a midnight movie showing in Aurora, Colorado, I would definitely want to know what went through his mind.
James Holmes, the 24-year-old suspect from the University of Colorado, Denver, has been described as sometimes awkward but never displayed signs of violence. According to the Huffington Post, it is a mystery as to what happened during his stint in the program as a neuroscience student at the school’s Anschutz Medical Campus. He dropped out after a year being in the program.
Four days ago, a judge in Denver barred the University of Colorado Denver from releasing any records about Holmes’ time at the campus. Other media organizations, including the AP, too have filed open records requests to obtain Holmes’ school records. The judge, however, said “releasing information in response to requests filed under the Colorado Open Records Act would impede an ongoing investigation”, according to the Huffington Post.
He did cite a provision of the Colorado Open Records Act that prevents the public from viewing open records. However, the Arapahoe County District Attorney’s office said that reporters did not request educational records, which would be prohibited from being released under Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), but emails, that are not exempted from the open records law.
I was a court reporter for two years in Malaysia, so I am not surprised when a judge orders the lawyers and police from speaking to the media about an on-going case. In Holmes’ situation, the judge has also sealed the case file which prevents the public from seeing the arguments from both sides. The Washington Post and others news organizations are contesting his order, according to the Seattle Times.
All said and done, under the Colorado Laws Concerning Public (Open) Records, Title 24 Article 72-201 of the Legislative declaration states that it is declared to be the public policy of this state that all public records shall be open for inspection by any person at reasonable times. However, this can be negated if such inspection is prohibited by rules promulgated by the supreme court or by the order of any court.The Huffington Post stated that there has been a tightly controlled flow of information about Holmes since the assault.
It is very strange how Holmes was studying temporal illusions in neuroscience and how that transgressed into him losing the part of his brain that allowed him to reason. Now if the media are able to look into Holmes’ emails (in an ideal world) and possibly find any suspicious correspondence, that could open up an entire new can of worms. We would definitely find emails between him and his psychiatrist, who in fact, has recently been under the media scrutiny. If I’m not mistaken that would fall under the category of client-doctor privilege so, again, no luck for reporters.
In Malaysia, the Centre for Independent Journalism which fights for advocating media freedom and access to information, is pushing for the country’s Official Secrets Act 1972 (OSA) to be repealed and replaced with a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), like the one in the U.S.
Under OSA, an official secrets is simply defined as “any document specified in the Schedule and any information and material relating thereto and includes any other official document, information and material as may be classified as “Top Secret”, “Secret”, “Confidential” or “Restricted”, as the case may be, by a Minister, the Menteri Besar or Chief Minister of a State or such public officer appointed under section 2B;”
Prior to coming to the U.S. I was excited to experience working in a free press environment. I have learned that there are so many exemptions to that freedom. I’m sure the restrictions are there for a reason.
During my first week at the LA Times, I sat in on a conference call between the company attorney, city desk reporters and the attorney for the Los Angeles Fire Department. The reporters wanted to obtain the department’s call handling times to investigate if the response times were the factor for a man’s death. The man collapsed in his backyard at his house located just half-mile away from the firehouse.
During the conference call, there were frictions as to what the newsdesk was requesting and what the Los Angeles fire department’s attorney thought they wanted. The desk wanted the fire department’s response times to emergencies and nothing to do with patient’s names and addresses. Under U.S. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), is a law that gives you the right to access information from the federal government. It is often described as the law that keeps citizens in the know about their government. Under the FOIA, agencies must disclose any information that is requested – unless that information is protected from public disclosure. In this case, the exemption is HIPAA – which protects the privacy of individually identifiable health information.
The argument by the Times was how, by providing the information of response times to the paper, would hurt the Fire Department? The answer by the fire department’s attorney was that it could pose potential liability for department as it could potentially disclose names and addresses of the people. This was counter argued by the Times on the grounds that California law has a disclosure requirement.
An in-depth investigative report on the story by the Times which was later published revealed that that in the more than 250,000 medical dispatches last year, the fire department took 75% longer to respond, on average, than the national standard. BUT it is impossible to say whether a faster response would have saved him.
During our mid-term seminar in Missouri, we learned that there are state open-records statutes in the U.S. which come with various exemptions.