Watchdog says Colorado Supreme Court, Judicial Department blocked investigations

In a scathing 11-page letter, the Colorado Commission on Judicial Discipline this week doubled down on its claim that the state Judicial Department and Colorado Supreme Court have blocked the commission’s efforts to investigate alleged judicial misconduct.

Commission Executive Director Chris Gregory, in the letter and two 12-page appendices, laid out multiple ways he says the Judicial Department blocked the commission’s efforts to investigate potential misconduct over the last two years, including by refusing to share records and documents, by stalling the commission’s requested funding and by circulating “unfounded stories” that cast doubt on the commission’s work.

“The bottom line is this: Members of the Colorado Supreme Court, directly and through its senior staff, made a series of decisions and took a series of actions throughout 2021 and 2022 that limited the ability of the commission… to do its constitutionally mandated work,” Gregory wrote on behalf of the commission. “…It chose delay, mixed messages and obfuscation.”

The letter, which was submitted Sunday to a committee of lawmakers considering reforms to the state’s system for disciplining judges, largely rehashes allegations the commission has previously leveled at the Judicial Department — the two organizations have sparred for months — though in more detail and with some previously unknown tidbits.

In a statement Monday, the Colorado Judicial Department denied the latest allegations and said the organization is cooperating with the commission.

“The commission’s response… omits many relevant statements, ignores important context, in some instances misstates discussions, misquotes language from the department’s written communications, modifies quotes to imply something other than what was stated (in some cases not indicating the quote has been modified), and falsely attributes ill-intent to many members of department leadership,” the statement reads. “The commission’s communication is disheartening. Obviously, we disagree with the commission’s characterization of events.”

Gregory wrote that Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Brian Boatright met last summer with the previous leader of the commission, Bill Campbell, in a downtown Denver parking garage. Boatright told Campbell that he wanted the Commission to have “all the info” they sought, but that he didn’t want to “give it easily” to the commission so he would have a “credible way to decline providing it” to others, according to an appendix to the commission’s letter.

Campbell did not return a request for comment Monday; Gregory declined to comment. Rob McCallum, a spokesman for the Judicial Department, said Boatright and Campbell “crossed paths in the basement parking garage of the courthouse when they were coming or going from the building” and had a “brief interaction.”

“The chief justice mentioned to Bill that the department’s interest was to provide all of the information available, but that there was no way around the fact that privileged and confidential information would have to remain privileged and confidential,” McCallum said in a statement.

The Judicial Department’s statement said that officials are working “as quickly as possible” to provide additional records and documents to the commission in response to “five new broad requests” that will require the Judicial Department to produce about 30,000 documents.

“Thus, it is entirely inaccurate for the commission to state that the department is ‘withholding’ documents when, in fact, the department is working feverishly to comply with these requests in a timely manner,” the statement reads.

Sunday’s letter from the commission is a direct response to a letter the Judicial Department gave lawmakers in July that outlined the Judicial Department’s gripes with the commission.

Both letters were submitted to a committee of state lawmakers who are holding a series of public hearings this summer to consider potential reforms to the way judges are disciplined in Colorado. The next hearing is scheduled for Wednesday.

The commission has proposed, among other reforms, stripping the Colorado Supreme Court of its sole power to determine how judges are publicly disciplined and instead creating an independent board to handle public judicial discipline cases — a move the Judicial Department opposes.

Gregory argued in the letter and attachments that significant reform — some of which would require changing the state’s constitution — is necessary to remove conflicts of interest and remake a flawed discipline system, and pointed to the commission’s problems with the Judicial Department as evidence of the flaws.

“The overt actions of the leadership of the department to promote publicly a specific narrative and avoid an impartial judicial discipline investigation themselves illustrate the depth of the flaws in the functionality and credibility of Colorado’s current system of judicial discipline that need to be remedied,” Gregory wrote.

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