DENVER - The State Public Defender’s Office has refused to release the amount of public money it spent defending the Aurora theater killer. But given the numbers already released by both the Arapahoe County District Attorney and the Arapahoe County Sheriff Department, the public defender’s cost is thought to be well over $1 million.
Republican State Senator John Cooke of Weld County, a member of the Colorado Senate Judiciary Committee, told 7NEWS Investigator John Ferrugia that the legislature and the public have a right to know how much has been spent on the trial.
“It’s public money, your money, my money, the state’s money, taxpayer money," he said, emphasizing the point. “Where is the money going? They have no accountability to the public who is funding them and that’s the problem. There is a lack of transparency and a lack of accountability."
That is not the case with other agencies, like the Arapahoe County Sheriff's Department.
Sheriff Dave Walcher has released a detailed accounting of the costs of detention for the killer, transportation and trial costs. It totals more than $1.6 million dollars, with just over $400,000 paid for by federal grants.
The DA’s office has also made it's costs public, some of which were reimbursed by federal tax money.
They include more than $680,000 on victim services; more than $220,000 for expert witnesses, serving subpoenas and other costs; and more than $470,000 for victim witness advocates and a prosecutor to work with them. And, that doesn't count hundreds of thousands for salaries of those attorneys and staffers assigned to the trial.
The public defender, representing James Holmes, paid for expert witnesses, investigators, lawyers and staff. And, there were also transportation and lodging costs.
“When you are not accountable, you just say, ‘Trust me, we spent the money wisely,' that’s the problem,” State Senator John Cooke told Ferrugia.
But the public defender's office says it does not function under the same requirement or rules as the DA and Sheriff. Rather, they claim that the office is adhering to Colorado Supreme Court rules governing professional conduct for defense lawyers. One specific rule states:
“A lawyer shall not reveal information relating to the representation of a client unless the client gives informed consent.”
But Cooke says confidentiality can be protected while still being transparent by simply redacting the names of those who benefitted from the spending, but giving the public information on how and where the money was spent.
“People don’t want their names used… or the public defenders don’t want names used, I can live with that. But, where is the money going?” he asked.
Clearly, Cooke and taxpayers are not likely to find out because even if the legislature were to pass a bill requiring disclosure of costs, it is not certain how the judicial branch would respond.
7NEWS reached out to the State Public Defender’s office to talk about the issue. Our calls were not returned.