Chief Justice Discusses Scandal Investigations, Judicial Discipline Commission Independence During Legislative Hearing

Investigations into high-profile scandals in Colorado’s judicial branch are likely to wrap up in the spring or early summer, but there will be limits on how much of the investigators’ findings will be made available to the public, according to judicial department officials speaking at a Jan. 25 legislative hearing.

Two firms were selected in August to conduct independent investigations into allegations of widespread misconduct within the judicial branch. Denver-based Investigations Law Group was chosen to investigate allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination, which were made public a year ago in a Denver Post exposé. Another Colorado company, RCT, Ltd., was selected to investigate claims that former State Court Administrator’s Office Chief of Staff Mindy Masias was allegedly awarded a $2.5 million contract to provide judicial leadership training after she threatened to expose harassment and other misconduct by judges.

Speaking at a hearing of the Joint Judiciary Committee on Jan. 25, Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Brian Boatright said the department’s contracts with the investigators began in October or November and will last up to six months. While the contracts allow for extensions, “there’s no anticipation at this point that we’re going to need to trigger the extensions,” said State Court Administrator Steven Vasconcellos, also speaking at the hearing.

“We are committed to releasing the results of those investigations to the public,” Boatright said. He added that he expects the public will have access to a report about the investigators’ conclusions, but some information might be withheld from the public. “We’re giving [investigators] unfettered access to attorney-client privilege and to non-disclosure agreements, [and] if we were to release those publicly, it would subject the branch and ultimately the state to financial liability,” Boatright said.

During the hearing, which featured presentations and testimony required under a state budgeting process, the legislators also heard from the Colorado Commission on Judicial Discipline, which is responsible for investigating alleged professional ethics violations by judges. CCJD Chair Elizabeth Espinosa Krupa told the joint committee that the commission hopes to establish independent access to funding and resources. The CCJD is currently funded by attorney registration fees collected by the judicial branch.

“To ensure that our fiscal and operational independence is ensured, our budget should be separate from that of the judicial branch,” Krupa said. “This protects the judicial branch from the charge that it’s withholding funds and therefore hampering our investigation of any of its members.”

When asked about the idea of separate funding for the commission, Boatright said, “we are in support of the independence.” The Supreme Court has fiduciary responsibility over the use of the fees that fund the commission, he said, “and I don’t think that’s a workable model, currently.”

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