World Pub. Co. v. White, 95,518.

CourtSupreme Court of Oklahoma
Citation32 P.3d 835,2001 OK 48
Docket NumberNo. 95,518.,95,518.
PartiesWORLD PUBLISHING COMPANY, an Oklahoma corporation, Petitioner, v. The Honorable April Sellers WHITE, Judge of the District Court of Creek County, 24th Judicial District, Respondent, and Robert Wayne Rotramel, an Individual, Real Party in Interest.
Decision Date12 June 2001

J Schaad Titus, Tulsa, OK, for Petitioner, World Publishing Company.

E. Clyde Kirk, Assistant Attorney General, Brandon D. Watkins, Assistant Attorney General, Oklahoma City, OK, for Respondent, Honorable April Sellers White.

Richard D. Olderbak, Assistant Attorney General, Oklahoma City, OK, for Respondent, Office of Juvenile Affairs.

Perry W. Hudson, Sapulpa, OK, Craig Sutter, Norman, OK, for Real Party in Interest, Robert Wayne Rotramel.


¶ 1 Two issues1 are presented in the original action: 1) whether the juvenile court and law enforcement records2 of individuals charged with the crimes enumerated in 10 O.S. Supp.1997 § 7306-1.13 are open records pursuant to 10 O.S. Supp.1999 § 7307-1.2(C)(2);4 and 2) whether, under the facts presented — an adult charged with the murder, rape and sexual molestation of two minor females, the refusal to release Rotramel's juvenile court and law enforcement records was an unauthorized use of judicial power. We determine that the records should be released, assume jurisdiction and grant the writ.5


¶ 2 On August 23, 2000, the adult real party in interest, Robert Wayne Rotramel (Rotramel/adult), was charged with multiple crimes including first degree murder, kidnapping, lewd molestation, rape and forcible sodomy. The charges arose from an incident in which Rotramel allegedly kidnapped seven and twelve year old girls, forced them into an abandoned home, strangled the seven year old to keep her quiet and raped and sodomized the twelve year old.

¶ 3 In an attempt to gain access to Rotramel's juvenile records, the petitioner, World Publishing Company (World Publishing/newspaper), filed a motion to intervene in the criminal cause. The request was dismissed6 based on a finding that the correct procedure would be to file a petition for the inspection of the records in the juvenile court pursuant to 10 O.S. Supp.1999 § 7307-1.2(F) through (H).7 Upon being advised that a similar request for the same records was pending with the respondent, Honorable April Sellers White (respondent judge), World Publishing intervened seeking the release of Rotramel's juvenile court and law enforcement records on First Amendment grounds and pursuant to the Oklahoma Open Records Act, 51 O.S. Supp.1997 § 24A.1 et seq. and 10 O.S. Supp.1999 § 7307-1.2(C).

¶ 4 After conducting a hearing on October 6, 2000, the respondent judge issued an order in which she recognized that compelling reasons existed for the release and disclosure of a portion of the requested information. Although a redacted adjudication journal entry and disposition journal entry were released, other court records were withheld. Further, the respondent judge ordered that Rotramel's law enforcement records be delivered to her for review. Although the order indicates that these records would be released if a compelling reason for disclosure was revealed after inspection and redaction, World Publishing has not been supplied with any of the adult's law enforcement records compiled before his eighteenth birthday.

¶ 5 World Publishing filed an application to assume original jurisdiction and a petition for writ of mandamus on November 17, 2000. Rotramel responded on December 11, 2000. Responses were filed by the office of the Attorney General on behalf of the respondent, Office of Juvenile Affairs (Juvenile Affairs) and the respondent judge on December 11 and December 18, 2000, respectively.



¶ 7 World Publishing asserts that once the adult was charged with one of the crimes enumerated in 10 O.S. Supp.1997 § 7306-1.1, the confidentiality requirements relating to his juvenile and law enforcement records were removed pursuant to 10 O.S. Supp.1999 § 7307-1.2(C)(2). The respondent judge, Rotramel8 and Juvenile Affairs argue that 10 O.S. Supp.1999 § 7307-1.2(C)(2) is inapplicable on two grounds: 1) Rotramel was not "charged pursuant to 10 O.S. Supp. 1997 § 7306-1.1"; and 2) 10 O.S. Supp.1999 § 7307-1.2(C)(2) should not be applied retroactively.

a. The current statutory scheme.

¶ 8 The exception to confidentiality applicable here — 10 O.S. Supp.1999 § 7307-1.2(C)(2) — provides:

"The confidentiality requirements of subsection A of this section for juvenile court and law enforcement records shall not apply:
Upon the charging of an individual pursuant to Section 7306-1.1 of this title."

Title 10 O.S. Supp.1997 § 7306-1.1 provides that individuals between the ages of thirteen and seventeen who commit a list of particularly egregious crimes shall be considered as adults.9

¶ 9 It is uncontested that Rotramel was charged with one or more of the crimes enumerated in 10 O.S. Supp.1997 § 7306-1.1. Nevertheless, the respondents and Rotramel all contend that subsection (C)(2) should be read literally. Under their interpretation, confidentiality restrictions are removed under 10 O.S. Supp.1999 § 7307-1.2(C)(2) only when charges are actually brought under § 7306-1.1, i.e. when a juvenile between the ages of thirteen and seventeen is "charged" under the statute. World Publishing asserts that the Legislature intended its reference to § 7306-1.1 in 10 O.S. Supp.1999 § 7307-1.2(C)(2) to merely provide a list of those serious crimes justifying the lifting of the confidentiality requirements for juvenile court and law enforcement records. We agree.

¶ 10 Legislative intent10 controls statutory interpretation.11 Intent is ascertained from the whole act in light of its general purpose and objective12 considering relevant provisions together to give full force and effect to each.13 The Court presumes that the Legislature expressed its intent and that it intended what it expressed.14 Statutes are interpreted to attain that purpose and end15 championing the broad public policy purposes underlying them.16 Only where the legislative intent cannot be ascertained from the statutory language, i.e. in cases of ambiguity or conflict, are rules of statutory construction employed.17 However, where the statutory language is ambiguous or uncertain, a construction is applied to avoid absurdities18 remembering that the Legislature is not deemed to have created an absurdity or done a vain and useless act.19 Where inept or incorrect language has been utilized, the words are applied consistent with the real or obvious purpose of the legislative enactment.20

¶ 11 Subsection 7307-1.2(C)(2) provides that once an "individual" is "charged" pursuant to21 10 O.S. Supp.1997 § 7306-1.1, the juvenile court and law enforcement records of the "individual" are no longer confidential. This is the only exception to confidentiality within subsection (C) referring to an "individual" rather than to a "juvenile." The respondent judge, Office of Juvenile Affairs and Rotramel argue that the subsection is inapplicable here because it relates only to "juveniles" "charged" pursuant to the provisions of § 7306-1.1.

¶ 12 The argument is unconvincing in two respects. First, "juvenile" is a defined term within the Juvenile Code.22 A "juvenile" is any person under eighteen except for persons charged with the crimes specified in 10 O.S. Supp.1997 § 7306-1.1.23 Pursuant to the statutory definition of "juvenile", no person charged with any of the acts listed in § 7306-1.1 is a "juvenile" for purposes of the Juvenile Code. The statutory exception to confidentiality in subsection 7307-1.2(C)(2) refers to "individuals" rather than to "juveniles". If we were to ignore the difference in the language utilized and to adopt the construction urged, the exception would be a nullity. It would not be applicable to persons charged with committing the serious crimes enumerated in 10 O.S. Supp. 1997 § 7306-1.1 because the individuals are not "juveniles" within the meaning of the statutory definition. It would not apply to Rotramel because he was over eighteen when charged. Further, to hold that Rotramel's records would be accessible — if charged at seventeen rather than after majority — would create an absurdity. Essentially, such a construction would expose a juvenile and cloak an adult, both of whom engaged in the same activities — under a statutory scheme that generally provides juveniles with the protection of anonymity.24 There is simply nothing in the Juvenile Code or in the specific provisions at issue indicating the Legislature intended such an unbalanced result.

¶ 13 Second, an argument that only those individuals "charged" under 10 O.S. Supp.1997 § 7306-1.1 may have their records disclosed is likewise unconvincing. In Oklahoma, all crimes are statutory.25 The essential elements of a crime are the statutory provisions defining the offense.26 Generally, notice of the charged crime is given by a charging document, an "information", filed against the defendant.27 Although an information need not allege each element of a crime to withstand a due process attack, it must give the defendant notice of the charges sufficient to mount a defense.28 "Charging statutes" are those legislative provisions which define the crime committed and its elements.29 Charges are brought pursuant to the specific statute covering the offense.30

¶ 14 Despite the assertion that the statute cannot apply to Rotramel because he was not "charged" pursuant to its provisions, § 7306-1.1 has none of the attributes of a "charging statute." It does not define an offense or any of the elements thereof. Rather, it provides that certain persons "charged" with a laundry list of...

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