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Colorado Supreme Court asks other gov't branches to pick independent team to probe judicial branch

Move comes after series of investigative reports in The Denver Post
Colorado Supreme Court
Posted at 1:18 PM, Feb 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-16 22:20:49-05

DENVER – The Colorado Supreme Court has asked the offices of the governor, attorney general and the state General Assembly to put together a team of independent investigators to look into allegations of sexual misconduct and a no-bid contract in the state’s judicial branch.

The call by the state’s high court comes amid a series of investigative reports by The Denver Post this month that detailed multiple allegations involving the branch made to the newspaper by a whistleblower and former State Court Administrator.

Those allegations include a memo, which was released last week after months of efforts by The Denver Post and after reporter David Migoya’s initial reports, from the former human resources director of the judicial branch that detailed allegations of sexual misconduct and discrimination within the branch involving multiple people, including some high-ranking judges.

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According to the memo, the allegations against judges included an instance where a judge sent a pornographic video out using a judicial email and another instance where a judge exposed and rubbed his hairy chest on a female employee’s back without any action being taken against him. It also alleges that female employees are terminated at a much higher rate than men and have a more difficult time getting promoted.

The newspaper reports alleged, per the whistleblower, that a former department chief of staff, Mindy Masias, had been awarded a five-year, $2.5 million contract for judicial training after she threatened to expose the alleged misconduct in a lawsuit if she was fired — the allegations of which were summarized in the memo. The contract was terminated amid reporting by Migoya in 2019.

The Colorado Supreme Court has denied that the contract was agreed to in order to keep Masias from bringing forth a lawsuit about her claims.

The state auditor’s office is investigating the memo and The Denver Post reported that the Supreme Court was hiring an outside investigator.

Both Gov. Jared Polis and Attorney General Phil Weiser said last week they were concerned by the allegations and supported independent investigations. Lawmakers in the General Assembly have also said they were supportive of investigations into the allegations.

House Speaker Alec Garnett, D-Denver, and Senate President Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo, both told reporters Monday that they were looking at “all options” to investigate the allegations.

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“All of us at the legislature have been disturbed by the stories coming out at Judicial,” said Garnett. “…I think we are looking at all options in making sure that we don’t get ahead of the facts. But at the same time, we’re doing everything we can to sort through how we can make sure there’s trust with the public across the state in the judicial branch,” Garnett said.

Garcia said lawmakers don’t “need to be grounded” on what to consider at the moment, saying the legislative branch could look at interim or select committees to continue to evaluate the culture and what transparency measures could shed more light on the judicial branch.

“I just feel for these types of allegations and concerns to be raised, that system isn’t functioning at the level we all expect,” Garcia said.

The Colorado Supreme Court’s announcement Tuesday said that once the team of independent investigators is picked, it will conduct the investigation and issue public reports on all findings and recommendations. New Chief Justice Brian D. Boatright, who took over as the top justice on Jan. 1, has asked for weekly updates on future misconduct complaints filed across the judicial branch.

“This branch has so many terrific, dedicated people at every level doing incredible work despite the operational crisis that COVID-19 has put on our state’s court system. They are shocked and disheartened by these allegations,” Boatright said in a statement. “My promise to them, and to all of Colorado, is that the Court is going to work equally hard not just to repair our internal culture but to greatly enhance the entire department. We’re going to get this right.”

Boatright is expected to further address the investigation and allegations in his State of the Judiciary speech on Thursday.