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The Colorado Press Association announced early Wednesday morning that Colorado has been selected as one of only five states out of 50 applicants to receive a pro bono Freedom of Information (FOI) attorney, assigned to the state for a two year contract. The legal support is funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

“Colorado journalists face a number of legal issues, including high fees for obtaining public records and the misuse of exceptions and exclusions in the public records law to deny requests,” says a Reporters Committee statement on why Colorado was selected.

The four other states chosen by Reporters Committee for pro bono legal support for journalists include Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Tennessee.

“Having access to a pro bono attorney courtesy of Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press will strengthen our fight for transparency and accountability in Colorado,” said Colorado Press Association CEO Jill Farschman. “We are grateful for the opportunity to be one of only five states piloting this program nationally and hope the program will continue to expand in the future.”

The Local Legal Initiative provides local news organizations with the direct legal services needed to pursue enterprise and investigative stories in their communities. These Reporters Committee attorneys will be based in key regions across the country to help local news organizations and journalists throughout the area defend their rights to gather and report the news, gain access to public records and court proceedings, and hold state and local government agencies and officials accountable to the public.

“We are eager to expand our legal services to help more local journalists pursue stories that inform and strengthen their communities,” said Reporters Committee Executive Director Bruce Brown. “We are looking forward to working closely with our partners in each of these states to support thriving local journalism.”

The Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition (CFOIC) applied for the program along with the Colorado Press Association, the Colorado Broadcasters Association and the Colorado Media Project. According to ECFICE Executive Director, Jeff Roberts, local news outlets in Colorado and throughout the country are waging far fewer legal battles to get access to information than in the past, due to reduced financial resources. The decreasing access to public records for journalists’  to such things as government meetings and court proceedings, deprives Coloradans of information they need to hold their institutions accountable.

“This is great news for journalism in Colorado and the public’s right to know,” said Roberts. “The additional legal firepower will make it easier for news organizations across our state to fight wrongful denials of access to the records and proceedings of government. It will help us break through barriers that make it difficult for reporters to keep Coloradans informed.”

At this time, when Colorado journalists and members of the public believe they have been denied access improperly, their only remedy is to go to court to force access.

Roberts shared the following information about the importance of this legal support to local Colorado news media: