Bar Leaders Push for Equity Education Requirements

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In light of a broader discussion across America about equity, and in the wake of allegations against the Colorado judicial branch, the Presidents’ Diversity Council, consisting of the presidents and former presidents of diversity bars in Colorado, came together to push for diversity, equity and inclusion changes in the Colorado legal world.

Their idea? A change in the continuing legal education requirements that would require every attorney in Colorado to designate two CLE hours for diversity, equity and inclusion to better educate attorneys about their colleagues, clients and equality issues in the legal profession, such as educating legal professionals about their bias. This would become the Equity Diversity and Inclusivity Continuing Legal Education rule. The public comment period for the proposed rule closes today.

“Education doesn’t change everyone, but no one can change without being educated,” said Annie Martínez, the immediate past president of the Colorado Hispanic Bar Association and a leader in the EDI CLE movement. “If we don’t make the effort to make it a requirement in our licensing requirements, we’ll never get through to the people who need it the most.”

While the branch prepares to investigate the allegations, the Presidents Council, representing lawyers across the state, signed on to a letter demanding change. Members of the council include the presidents of the Colorado Bar, Denver Bar, CHBA, Colorado LGBT Bar, the Asian Pacific American Bar, Sam Cary Bar, Colorado Women’s Bar and the South Asian Bar associations and the Colorado Bar’s Young Lawyers Division.

The idea for an EDI CLE requirement dates back several years, but the President’s Diversity Council called on the state judiciary to adopt the rule to help ensure EDI commitment in the wake of the allegations leveled against the highest levels of the state court system.

The allegations leveled against the judicial branch — including allegations of sexual misconduct, sexual discrimination, destruction of evidence, pay-offs, a judicial coverup, resignations of key personnel in disgust and a culture of inappropriate behavior among the judicial staff — arose from a Denver Post investigation of a 2018 a multi-million-dollar contract allegedly awarded to the former chief of staff for the State Court Administrator’s Office, to keep her from making the misconduct allegations public.

There was discussion among the council members about what action could be taken beyond issuing a statement — more than platitudes, Martínez said, and the discussion turned to how in the years before 2020, there had been a push to create an EDI rule for licensing requirements “that went nowhere.”

Christine Hernández, a past president of the CHBA and shareholder at Hernández & Associates, said the EDI CLE requirement is now on its second time up to the Supreme Court. The American Bar Association had issued a recommendation on diversity in 2016, and when the EDI requirement was first discussed in 2017, she felt it was early for pushing for this change in Colorado.

Martínez said there was a consensus to start working on the EDI rule again. As work progressed, several individuals took to spearheading the initiative, including Martínez, Hernández, Denver Bar Association past president Kevin McReynolds and current president Tyrone Glover, and Sam Cary Bar Association past president Scott Evans.

Hernández said there was a call to action after the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and last summer’s related protests. “It was a call to action for the attorneys saying what can we do to be part of the solution, and how can we make lasting change?” These few are spearheaded the movement on something tangible, she said. The thought was that if practitioners, including judges, have to keep their license by going through CLE requirements, and one of the education requirements was focused on EDI efforts, it would be a step forward. The EDI topics include antiracism, anti-bias, LGBTQ working with individuals who were lawyers prior to coming to America and other concerns.

Spencer Rubin, chair of the CBA’s Young Lawyer’s Division, said what was being asked was to make a change not only bettering the judiciary, but also the whole legal community in Colorado. He added that attorneys can benefit from EDI as lawyers don’t get much training on how to respectfully treat people post-law school.

April Jones, president of the Sam Cary Bar Association and vice president of the CBA CLE, said that she fully supports the change to the CLE requirements as changing this component affecting the entire legal profession, it’s showing the legal profession that equity, diversity and inclusion are important, and addressing those concerns.

“It was born out of what we heard from our membership, personal experiences of this practice and receiving it as advocates and how are clients are treated,” said Jonathan Booker, the current president of the CHBA. This was part of the reason the focus is on “EDI,” Booker said. “It’s not purely a diversity requirement. It is about inclusion, it is about equity — because you cannot have equality without diversity, you can’t have inclusion without equality — it all kind of comes together.”

Rubin said he hoped that by requiring attorneys to complete two credits in EDI to keep their license, the rule would help end discrimination of certain parties, such as bias on sexual or gender discrimination. “When people actually sit down and listen to what it’s like to be someone in the legal profession that that’s happened to — and to feel powerless — and to feel like you couldn’t challenge it… [it] attempts to help people understand how people have felt in that scenario.”

Jones said that one hope she has for the proposed EDI CLE change is for people to realize the biases they have. For those who don’t see their bias, and therefore might not see EDI issues as their lives might not be affected by it, could wind up leading to an assumption that everything is fine — and in law, that creates a blind spot, Jones said.

“This forces us to take a look at what’s actually happening,” Jones said. “Our job as lawyers is to look at what’s happening and not have those blind spots. So, this is a big win.”

Ann Stanton, LGBT Bar president, said that attorneys of color are often mistaken as paralegals or assistants, not as attorneys, sometimes even in their own firms where they work. Stanton said that, as an LGBTQ woman in the legal profession who is masculine-presenting, she’s been occasionally misgendered or questioned about being in the wrong bathroom. “We need to be working to root this out at all levels of this profession,” Stanton said.

As society is changing, Jones said this CLE goes a long way in showing that bias exists and it needs to be dealt with. This change is starting that process and shows that racial justice will not be tolerated

“We live this every day,” Martínez said, adding that fellow practitioners, communities, and the people and businesses they serve, could do better. To her, an attorney couldn’t live up to their requirements as an attorney representing clients, if an attorney doesn’t understand that people of different walks of life experience the justice system differently.

“We’re very excited about it, from both a CLE and Sam Cary perspective, it is going to be a gamechanger in our profession from the standpoint of recognizing something that’s been around forever — and now let’s look at it, let’s identify it and let’s change it for the better,” Jones said.

The final tally on the EDI CLE rule with come on April 6 when the Supreme Court announces its decision, Hernández said.“We’re down to the wire on is this going to pass or not,” Booker said. He urged every attorney, for and against the EDI CLE rule, to make their voices heard.

To submit comment on the proposed CLE change, and all proposed rules and regulations, written comments should be sent to Cheryl Stevens, Clerk of the Colorado Supreme Court via [email protected]. Those wanting to speak at the hearing should email her as well, or by telephone at 720-625-5150 no later than Monday, March 29 at 4 p.m.

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