Important Colorado court rulings could finally be free to access under a new bill

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
State Rep. Matt Soper on the House floor as the Colorado General Assembly opened its 2021 session on Wednesday, Jan. 13.

It’s pretty easy to get a copy of the laws and regulations that govern life in Colorado. 

But there’s another legal realm that is not so accessible: case law. This set of rulings by Colorado’s appeals and supreme courts lays out the precedents for how court cases are decided.

Right now, the complete set is only available through pricy online services or by going to a law library in Denver, said state Rep. Matt Soper, a Republican. And it’s important to be able to access the full history of higher-court decisions, going back to statehood, to understand how different precedents have evolved.

“That means that if you’re a poor Coloradan or if you’re a rural Coloradoan, it has a chilling effect on being able to access your source of law,” Soper said.

Soper is sponsoring a bipartisan bill that would put all those rulings in a free online database. It passed its first committee hearing with a unanimous vote this week.

Under the bill, the state would pay one of the existing legal information services to make their case law collection available to the public. The services would likely remove the valuable annotations they provide to paying customers, which provide additional context, but they would at least publish the original rulings in full.

The bill is co-sponsored by state Rep. Mike Weissman and state Sen. Jeff Bridges, both Democrats, and by Republican state Sen. Bob Gardner. Putting the opinions online is expected to cost $100,000 initially and $30,000 a year going forward.