Kelly Sloan

Kelly Sloan

Not every interesting public issue originates from the chambers of the Capitol or City Hall. A lot of the more intriguing ones are found among the typically dry prose of the judicial system.

One of those which caught the attention of several folks in the state surrounds a legal battle being fought against a private career college, CollegeAmerica. There are some digestible issues concerning the merits of the case, but the more compelling bits concern the judge’s administration of it.

The whole mess in question started way back in 2012 and apparently generated a small forest worth of legal paperwork, but the salient datum is that final arguments were submitted back in 2017, and the judge only rendered a decision last Dec. 2 — three years later. This prompted a complaint from the defendants to the Colorado Commission on Judicial Discipline (CCJD) asking it to rule on the judge's lethargy. Which it did, evidently issuing the leisurely judge a private reprimand which no one can see.

Alright, so let’s start pulling this apart; the first obvious issue is the length of time it took to issue a decision. One generally accepts the premise that the wheels of justice move slowly. Three years is closer to imperceptibility.

This was a civil case filed against a private business by a state agency. And while it was languishing on a judge’s desk, the owners of that business languished in terminal uncertainty. The laws directing such matters were designed to determine if some wrong had been done, and to go about rectifying it if so — surely they never were intended to be dangled like the sword of Damocles over a defendant for almost a full presidential term.

The CCJD apparently agreed. I say apparently, because all we really know is that the commission issued the judge a private reprimand concerning the delay. That reprimand is closed to public review. If state Sen. So-and-so were to violate an ethics rule, it would be all over the front pages of this publication (and, sometime later, other state publications as well.) But with very few exceptions judicial misconduct is kept behind a veil.

I grant that there ought to be a certain level of aloofness associated with the judiciary. The principle of impartiality is implied in being somewhat above the fray. But the corollary to that is the duty to uphold the standards that are implicit with the position that bears with it such finality and societal importance. Once those standards are breached, it ought to be subject to the same scrutiny as any other public position.

The judicial irregularities aside, the whole mess alludes to what appears to be a long-standing statist bias against the type of institution represented by the defendant — private career colleges like CollegeAmerica. A sustained offensive was initiated against these types of institutions during the Obama administration, and that vilification has translated down to the state level.

This degree of official antipathy never made a great deal of sense. These schools fill a niche, providing a service to a group of otherwise largely forgotten people, permitting them an opportunity to lift out of poverty and build a life. These institutions are for that segment of society for whom traditional four-year college, for a variety of reasons, is an ill-suited option. Not everyone has the aptitude — or desire — to become a chemical engineer, or an historian, or to receive an MBA. These schools provide options that otherwise would not exist.

So why the enmity? It eludes any simple ideological explanation, in that such enterprises serve the cause of equality quite explicitly — education, as often said, being the great equalizer. It could simply be the type of institutional jealousy that plagues all bureaucracies which discover that a private sector solution emerged to fill a need the government could not.

We don’t know how much of these attacks are based on legitimate claims against the institutions, versus how much is simply to feed an appetite of ideological bias against them, just as we don’t know the extent to which the judge was culpable for all the irregularities, delays, and coincidences, and that’s the point. Judicial irregularities, delays, and coincidences do not equate to a great deal of trust in a system, especially one that seems to be prejudicially tilted against private career-oriented post-secondary institutions in the first place.

Kelly Sloan is a political and public affairs consultant and a recovering journalist based in Denver.

Kelly Sloan is a political and public affairs consultant and a recovering journalist based in Denver.

(1) comment

Forsyth Chris

Judicial discipline proceedings should be public. Most states have public judicial discipline proceedings. The Judicial Integrity Project is working for public judicial discipline proceedings. You can sign a petition to support public judicial discipline proceedings at: judicialintegrity.org

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