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The Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center in downtown Denver houses the Colorado Supreme Court and Court of Appeals. (Michael Karlik / Colorado Politics)

In his first public comments since alleging the Colorado Supreme Court three years ago approved a contract-for-silence with a former Judicial Department executive, Christopher Ryan stood firmly behind his assertions that wide-ranging efforts ensued to “protect the actions of those who wear the robes.”

Testifying Wednesday before a temporary legislative committee exploring changes to the state’s judicial discipline process, Ryan said he didn’t believe there was “wide-ranging systematic corruption or bias at work in the state’s trial courts,” but that there has been “the use of the umbrella of judicial independence as cover for keeping outsiders out of judicial business."

“I would ask you to look at the role the (Judicial) branch played in the investigations that have reported findings so far,” Ryan testified. “Remember, Judicial controlled the timing, execution, and terms of the contracts with RCT and ILG, including the conditions concerning retention of materials after their publication.”

The contracts with the two investigative firms, RCT and Investigations Law Group, were the result of Ryan’s revelation that a two-page memo was at the center of a multimillion-dollar contract given to Mindy Masias, the department’s former chief of staff, in 2019. Ryan said Masias threatened to reveal a number of misdeeds by judges, most of them men, that went unpunished or were handled leniently compared to her firing for financial irregularities.

Ryan has said the contract was approved by then-Chief Justice Nathan “Ben” Coats after he heard some of the details of what Masias would reveal in a threatened sex-discrimination lawsuit.

In his testimony, Ryan did not directly address the findings by the investigations that no quid pro quo occurred, as Ryan had earlier alleged. But Ryan noted how he never acted alone in signing the Masias contract — or anything else he did in the department.

Ryan was the state court administrator at the time, the highest civilian position in the Judicial Department.

“I clearly knew who was in charge,” Ryan testified. “My duties from the time I was a bailiff forward were always, always performed with the advice and consent of the judicial officers for whom I worked.”

He wrote that he became a victim of his own trust.

“Let me be clear, my devotion was always to the institution, not to any individual concerns, including my own,” Ryan said. “I was a true believer, and always a supporter of trusting in the process. In retrospect, it seems that I became blind to motivations of individuals, and what I believed was an appropriate personal sacrifice to make on behalf of the branch was ill-advised.”

Ryan resigned in July 2019 amid a newspaper investigation into the Masias contract. The RCT investigation said the resignation occurred after Coats learned Masias had made a surreptitious tape recording of a conversation she had with then-Chief Justice Nancy Rice to discuss why Masias had not been promoted to state court administrator.

“Take a moment to ask yourself what I have to gain from any of this,” Ryan said. “I am an unemployed 53-year-old, with zero prospects for the future, given the results that come from a Google search of my name. I no longer have the ability to serve the public and work in the field of public policy, which gave my career meaning.”

He added that he felt the brunt of the department's anger for having gone public.

"Now, having spent significant time outside of the circle, I have a new sense of what it is like to draw their ire, and the degree to which they are focused on self-protection," Ryan wrote in his statement.

Regarding his testimony, he said, “I believe that this opportunity to address the deficiencies of the disciplinary process, improve the environment at judicial, and correct the extreme imbalance of power between the staff and the black robes, has the best chance for success.”

He made several suggestions for changes in the discipline process, including minimizing the appearance of impropriety by either "a more formalized recusal process" or the creation of a separate entity to oversee discipline when the Supreme Court is involved. Ryan also said the state's open records law, which does not apply to the Judicial Department, should.

"Access to information is essential to garnering any ability to evaluate the actions and behaviors in question and, as a result, should not be at the discretion of the branch," Ryan said. "The opportunity for meaningful review of issues that involve administrative actions, and access to information that can shed light on them, should not vary based on the institutional actor in question."

Ryan also called for opening the judicial process to greater transparency.

"But whatever changes you make, make them specific, make it precise language especially when the judicial branch is involved," Ryan said. "Please understand the length to which the parsing of precise language can go."

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