- Associated Press - Saturday, April 9, 2016

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) - Some Kansas courts have failed to comply with a new state law on public requests for probable cause statements, according to the Kansas lawmaker who introduced the legislation.

Under the measure signed into law in 2014, Kansas courts have 10 business days to either release the probable cause statement sought, or inform whoever asked for it that the request is denied. The courts can also redact information in the probable cause statement, which explains the legal justification generally required before law enforcement can arrest someone or conduct searches.

Republican Rep. John Rubin of Shawnee said when he introduced the bill, Kansas was the only state that sealed all probable cause affidavits supporting arrests and warrants. He said the legislation allows authorities to keep records confidential for a few reasons, including if there’s an ongoing criminal investigation or if prosecutors need to be able to protect that information until they make all arrests in the case.

Rubin said some Kansas districts are either delaying beyond the allowed 10-day period or are requiring each individual to file a separate request, even if that request is for an affidavit that’s already been released to a different person who requested it.

“That was never the intent of the law,” Rubin said. “And we have a bill pending this year that I wrote to clear up that discrepancy, to make it clear that once an affidavit is released it’s part of the public record and it’s available to everybody. Press, public, whoever.”

Since December, the Lawrence Journal-World (https://j.mp/1RUgvs4 ) has filed at least 30 requests for probable cause affidavits. Of those 30 requests, eight were released beyond the 10-day waiting period. One document was not released until nearly a month-and-a-half after the request was submitted.

Douglas County District Court Chief Judge Robert Fairchild said the district is not intentionally missing request deadlines. Requests must go before both prosecuting and defense attorneys, court administrators and respective district judges before they can be released, Fairchild said. And within that process, those involved may forget about the request or it may be a lower priority than other items.

If the requests take longer than 10 days, Fairchild said it isn’t because he takes issue with the legislation.

“It’s the law,” he said. “If that’s what they think is appropriate, we’re happy to do it.”

Max Kautsch, a Lawrence attorney who focuses on First Amendment rights and open government and has represented the Journal-World in legal matters, said courts taking longer than 10 days to release probable cause affidavits are in violation of the law.

He also said some courts, like Sedgwick County District Court, which includes Wichita, are “doing a really good job” despite receiving what is likely a much higher volume of requests than smaller districts.


Information from: Lawrence (Kan.) Journal-World, https://www.ljworld.com

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