Shining light on affidavits

A new law is shining a welcome light on criminal justice as it unfolds in the state and especially Sedgwick County, where two documents released last week detail the reasons for the arrests and filing of criminal charges in capital murder cases.

Until this year, Kansas stood out among states for not considering probable cause affidavits to be open records. But the blanket secrecy ended last spring, as the Legislature overwhelmingly passed and Gov. Sam Brownback signed a bill newly providing for public scrutiny of the documents used to secure arrest warrants.

A former judge, Rep. John Rubin, R-Shawnee, proved a tenacious advocate for the law in the Legislature. But passage also took the leadership of Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett, who “really has tried to balance the public’s right to know with the need to protect the rights of the accused,” said Doug Anstaett, executive director of the Kansas Press Association.

Around the state, some judges are resisting the law and heeding defense attorneys’ contention that the release of the affidavits would be “prejudicial” to their clients – arguments contradicted by the long record of transparency in other states.

But credit is due Sedgwick County’s judges for respecting legislative intent and favoring disclosure. Last week Judge Ben Burgess unsealed the affidavits in the cases against Cornell A. McNeal, charged in the rape and murder of Letitia Davis, and Steven W. Edwards, one of two men accused of fatally shooting Martha and Godofredo Moreno – offering eye-opening perspective on what led to the arrests.

The openness should provide a well-timed boost to public trust in police and the justice system in Kansas.

For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman