Journal-World seeks release of affidavits in KU sexual assault cases

The Lawrence Journal-World has filed a motion in Douglas County District Court seeking the release of two arrest warrant affidavits in sexual assault cases that were sealed by Judge Kay Huff last month.

Huff sealed the affidavits of two 21-year-old men charged in connection with the alleged rapes of two women in Kansas University’s Hashinger residence hall Sept. 28.

At a hearing last month, John Kerns, an attorney for one of the defendants, said the documents, which give the facts of the case and reasons for arrest, should be sealed because the public becomes “inflamed” when articles are published online. Assistant Douglas County District Attorney Amy McGowan said the court should seal the affidavits because the investigation is continuing.

In a motion seeking to intervene in the case, Journal-World attorney Max Kautsch argued that the order sealing the affidavits does not meet the requirements of a law passed by the Kansas Legislature earlier this year that presumes arrest warrants are open records. Exceptions can be made if a court finds that release of an affidavit would damage the chances for a fair trial. That finding was not made in these cases, Kautsch said in the motion.

A hearing on the Journal-World’s motion was initially set for Dec. 9, but an attorney for one of the defendants has asked for more time to prepare.

Two men were charged Oct. 9 in Douglas County District Court with rape of a victim incapable of giving consent. Both suspects were released from jail after posting $50,000 bond, according to court records.

Earlier this month District Judge Sally Pokorny ruled that a redacted version of a previously sealed probable cause affidavit in another sexual assault case should be released to the public after the Journal-World filed a motion to intervene in the case and sought release of the document.

After Pokorny’s ruling, the affidavit was released within days.

Pokorny had sealed the document that justified Carlton M. Grass’ September arrest on suspicion of rape after both the prosecution and defense agreed the affidavit should be withheld from the public.

After hearing arguments from the prosecution, the defense and the Journal-World, Pokorny ordered that a redacted version of the document be released.

“We have a court system that encourages openness,” Pokorny said. “For the general public, they rely upon the news media to tell them what is going on at the courthouse.”