Denver Attorney Files Lawsuit Alleging Discrimination in Denver County Court

Denver-based attorney Spencer Kontnik and the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition have filed a lawsuit against Denver County Court in a disability discrimination case.

Kontnik is deaf in his left ear and hard of hearing in his right. According to a press release Kontnik alleged the court unlawfully excluded him from being a juror because of his disability, which he and the CCDC believe is in violation of the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act. The lawsuit contends the county court didn’t follow appropriate rules regarding the dismissal of a qualified juror in violation of CADA.

According to the court records Kontnik uses a cochlear implant and hearing aids and uses other accommodations like interpreters. Kontnik received a summons for jury duty at the Lindsey-Flanigan Courthouse for July 2021. Kontnik made arrangements to have an interpreter with the courts. 

The interpreter showed up waiting to assist Kontnik and the Denver County Court was aware of the interpreter to help Kontnik, according to the complaint, and eventually, Judge Judith Smith excused him as a juror.

According to court records, Smith said during a proceeding, “But the parties have approached and stipulated to allowing him to be excused just on the grounds that things might be tough for him and also the court would be required to have alternate just in the event there’s — there’s issues with the interpretation or with the juror’s ability to serve. So, just based on that and given that this will likely be a one-day trial I’ll agree with the stipulation and allow for that juror to be excused.”

The CCDC and Kontnik claim he could have had a one-on-one discussion with Smith on the record required under C.M.C.R. 224(c)(3) to establish there wasn’t a need to excuse him, but that didn’t happen.

According to court records, Kontnik filed charges of discrimination against the Denver District Attorney’s Office, the Office of the Colorado State Public Defender and Denver County Court. The CCDC and Kontnik said they were able to reach settlement agreements with the DA’s office and the state public defender’s office. In the settlement agreement, the DA’s office and state public defender agreed to provide training for all staff who are required to be knowledgeable about the Americans with Disabilities Act and CADA, among other obligations.

An agreement was not reached with the Denver County Court. The CCDC and Kontnik wrote in court records then-presiding Judge Theresa Spahn of the Denver County Court filed a response on behalf of the court, raising additional arguments trying to justify the conduct of Smith.

“I was absolutely astounded to find out all of the reasons why Denver County Court excluded me from participating in the jury selection process,” Kontnik said in a press release. “I have spent a lifetime combating discrimination against me because of a perceived lack of my abilities, and I have spent a very large part of my legal career defending the rights of my deaf and hard of hearing friends, colleagues and other clients ensuring that exactly this type of discrimination does not happen.”

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