CHEYENNE — Acting in response to a request from The Associated Press, the district court clerk in Cheyenne has unsealed legal filings from a Wyoming inmate who maintains new DNA testing proves he’s innocent of a rape charge for which he has served 23 years in prison.
The office of Laramie County’s district court clerk on Wednesday had declined to allow inspection of some court filings from inmate Andrew J. Johnson. The 63-year-old man was convicted in 1989 and is serving a life sentence at the state penitentiary in Rawlins.
Johnson’s lawyers filed papers in December asking a judge to allow the DNA testing, and then filed notice Tuesday that testing at a state laboratory proved he wasn’t the source of biological material taken from the victim. They asked the court to grant a new trial.
Aaron J. Lyttle, a Cheyenne lawyer working with the Utah-based Rocky Mountain Innocence Center, filed the new trial request this week.
Lyttle included a lab report from the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation that concludes, “Andrew Johnson can be excluded as a possible contributor” to DNA taken from the victim.
Laramie County District Attorney Scott Homar announced Wednesday that his office will review the case before deciding how to respond to Johnson’s request for a new trial.
District Judge Thomas Campbell on Thursday set a hearing for April 16 on Johnson’s request for a new trial.
Court Clerk Sandy Landers said Thursday she had decided to seal Johnson’s court filings because they referred to medical records.
After conferring with Laramie County Attorney Mark Voss about the AP’s request to inspect the filings, Landers said she opened most of the court records.
Landers said Voss advised her Thursday to release Johnson’s filings for DNA testing and his request for a new trial, but not the state lab test results.
Landers pointed to rules established by the Wyoming Supreme Court that say lawyers filing legal pleadings should redact information from pleadings such as dates of birth and Social Security numbers.
However, the Supreme Court rules state that the responsibility for redacting personal information from court filings rests solely with lawyers who write the legal pleadings, not the court clerk. “The clerk will not review papers for compliance with these rules,” the rules state.
Voss said Thursday that Landers hadn’t consulted with him about the decision to seal filings in Johnson’s case. “The decision to pull these two motions and put them in a confidential file was a routine one by her office,” he said.
Voss said Supreme Court rules require court clerks not to release information that’s confidential under a wide range of Wyoming laws. He said the state hasn’t devised a comprehensive approach to dealing with the confidentiality of all the information that’s kept in district court files.
“This is one of the objections I have to the redaction rule, is this call has to be made by people who are not attorneys,” Voss said.
Lyttle, Johnson’s lawyer, said Thursday he hadn’t been aware that Landers had sealed Johnson’s court filings. “That’s news to me,” the lawyer said.