The state Supreme Court has given its blessing to an investigation into the Colorado Judicial Department, weeks after reports emerged of a multimillion dollar contract being authorized for a former employee in order to conceal allegations of misconduct.
“We’re disappointed and absolutely heartbroken by this situation, and nobody wants these investigations to go forward more than I do,” said Chief Justice Brian D. Boatright.
Representatives from the governor's office, attorney general's office and General Assembly will select the panel of independent investigators. Boatright indicated he would comment further on the process in the State of the Judiciary speech this Thursday.
The investigation will touch on allegations of sexual harassment, sex discrimination and the contract awarded to the former chief of staff of the State Court Administrator's Office, Mindy Masias, reportedly with the approval of former Chief Justice Nathan B. Coats. The panel will also make public its findings and recommendations.
The Office of the State Auditor is conducting its own inquiry into the matter, following a December audit that found the contract award had "the appearance of impropriety." The department has since terminated the contract.
The Judicial Department announced Boatright has instructed staff to update him weekly on all misconduct complaints in the judiciary to ensure progress in investigations.
"The Court is going to work equally hard not just to repair our internal culture but to greatly enhance the entire department,” he said. “We’re going to get this right.”
The Denver Post and The Gazette reported on a two-year-old memo in which Masias alleged several incidents of misconduct from judges and others that went uninvestigated and unpunished. Those included a judge sending pornography through his government email and accusations of sexism against an unnamed chief justice.
Rep. Adrienne Benavidez, D-Adams County, who sits on the House Judiciary Committee, called the chief justice's announcement a good first step.
"It's clear from the audit and the recently-released memo that there does need to be a closer review and analysis of the personnel framework that they have in the judiciary," she said. "Something's not working over there."
However, Chris Forsyth, executive director of the nonprofit Judicial Integrity Project, worried that the Supreme Court is too involved with setting the parameters of the investigation, and that it is unclear how transparent the investigation itself will be.
"I understand the Supreme Court wants to get out in front of the story," he said. But not all of the issues outlined in the memo may fit within the panel's scope. For instance, a Court of Appeals judge under consideration for the Supreme Court reportedly reached a harassment settlement with his clerk.
"The judicial branch is trying to hide, actively trying to hide, information about a judge who was up for the Supreme Court. That's a broader problem," Forsyth said. He raised the possibility that the investigation may ultimately "have them saying, 'oh, they just need some sensitivity training, diversity training,' and slap the hand of the former chief justice and move on."
In a statement in support of the investigation, the Colorado Bar Association echoed the need to keep the public apprised.
"We support the independent investigation's intent to issue public reports of all findings and recommendations," the association said. "We urge our government leaders to take the necessary steps to redress these issues promptly and with full transparency."