On Wednesday, August 10, 2022, The Denver Gazette reported that a state legislative interim committee received recommendations from six legal professional groups that Colorado’s current judicial discipline system be strengthened, made more accessible to the public, and more transparent. Among the groups are the Colorado Women’s Bar Association, the Institute for Advancement of the American Legal System at the University of Denver, and the El Paso County Bar Association.
While the groups’ opinions on the specifics varied, they all agreed that Colorado’s system is too secretive and should allow more information about a judge’s wrongdoing to be made public, especially if disciplinary proceedings are filed.
Colorado only permits public disclosure of judicial misconduct after the state’s Commission on Judicial Discipline recommends public sanction to the Supreme Court and that request is granted. However, the commission’s private sanctions would remain secret.
According to the report:
“The legal groups uniformly testified that victims should have a variety of outlets to file a complaint, from a full-time ombudsperson to a mechanism for the filing of anonymous complaints that are investigated.”
Brittany Kauffman, the interim CEO at the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System at the University of Denver, stated that:
“The goal (of an ombudsman) is to provide a place in the system for those reluctant to file a complaint or were distressed by conduct that might not be subject to the discipline commission.”
The Colorado Women’s Bar Association provided the committee with a long list of recommendations, all of which concurred with other organizations’ calls for increased discipline transparency and a system for spotting emerging patterns of problematic behavior during the complaint process.
Emma Garrison, CWBA’s president-elect, stated that:
“It would bring judicial discipline proceedings in line with criminal proceedings and most civil proceedings. This additional transparency would help promote public confidence. To avoid the media being able to control the story is to keep the formal proceedings public. And it would serve as a deterrent function to other judges.”
While the Colorado Judicial Institute supports the “concept” of expanding transparency in the discipline process, it urged caution in amending the state Constitution regarding judicial discipline.
According to a statement filed with the committee by the Colorado Judicial Institute:
“The facts do not show serious problems with, or (the) need for major changes to, Colorado’s judicial discipline system. While Colorado’s system is not perfect and can always be tweaked for improvement, there is no serious problem to be ‘fixed’ warranting any major overhaul.”
The interim committee was the result of legislation passed earlier this year that created an independent funding source for the discipline commission. Sen. Pete Lee, D-Colorado Springs, was the main sponsor of that legislation and then named chairman of the interim committee.
Source: The Denver Gazette
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