Colorado’s judicial branch will neither confirm nor deny whether it has any additional records on the allegation that a Court of Appeals judge negotiated an agreement with a law clerk to prevent the clerk from disclosing sexual harassment claims, citing a provision of its rules that requires confidentiality for all investigations it conducts into sexual harassment claims against judges.
Judges in Colorado -- apparently including members of the state’s Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court -- have engaged in personal misconduct without repercussions, according to the contents of a memo Colorado’s judicial system made public Monday.
Terri Morrison, the legal counsel for Colorado’s Judicial Department, denied a records request from The Gazette seeking details about the alleged release agreement, which was one of nearly two dozen misconduct allegations listed in a recent memo The Gazette and The Denver Post obtained.
“Without confirming or denying the factual assumptions in your request, any record responsive to your request necessarily would be required to be withheld,” she said, citing a portion of the court system’s rules for governing public access to information and records.
The section she cited states that a records custodian “must deny” public inspection of “any records of sexual harassment complaints and investigations, whether or not such records are maintained as part of a personnel file.”
“Disclosure of all or a part of any records of sexual harassment complaints and investigations to the person in interest is permissible to the extent that the disclosure can be made without permitting the identification, as a result of the disclosure, of any individual involved,” the section further states.
That section also states that harassment complaints and any investigation into those complaints can be made public by a “a person of interest” when such “record supports the contention that a publicly reported, written, printed or spoken allegation of sexual harassment against such a person is false.”
Jeffrey Roberts, executive director of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, said details about the release agreement should be made public.
"The fact that there appears there was a settlement, which involved compensation to this law clerk, it's hard to see how that fits the definition of a sexual harassment complaint or investigation into such a complaint," Roberts said. "There could be details in this agreement that would have to be redacted, but the fact of the agreement and the exchange of money or payment of money, that would seem to be something that would not be covered by that rule."
He added: "The public needs to know if this happened. If the allegation is true that there was a negotiated agreement to protect a Court of Appeals judge, that has to come out at some point."
Last week, the alleged release agreement between the law clerk and the Appeals Court judge was mentioned in a memo that became public detailing nearly two dozen instances of misconduct involving judges and court administrators. The memo stated that the release agreement was negotiated to settle allegations of harassment, and that the settlement preserved the judge’s chances for potential selection to the Colorado Supreme Court.
“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.
The memo contained no further details about the settlement and did not reveal whether any money was paid as part of the settlement or detail any names involved in the settlement.
The release agreement was one of nearly two dozen instances of misconduct involving judges and administrators in the court system. The memo also states that Mindy Masias, the former chief of staff to the Colorado Supreme Court, was told to destroy an anonymous complaint alleging sexism and harassment by a former chief justice of the Colorado Supreme Court, who also was not identified.
The memo further alleged that two lower court judges were promoted to chief judge status in their judicial districts despite sending pornographic emails on their judicial emails and details instances involving court administrators, including one who allegedly was having sex with his staff.
The Colorado Supreme Court made the memo public after The Denver Post reported its existence. Christopher Ryan, Colorado’s former state court administrator, told The Post he took the memo to Nathan “Ben” Coats, who at that time was chief justice of the Colorado Supreme Court.
Ryan alleges that Coats agreed with Ryan’s suggestion that they give Masias a sole source training contract worth up to $2.72 million to prevent her from filing a lawsuit that would make the misconduct detailed in the memo public.
The Colorado Supreme Court has denied that the contract, which later was terminated, was given to Masias to keep her allegations from becoming public. Brian Boatright, the current chief justice of the Colorado Supreme Court, announced this week that he will have the governor, Legislature and Colorado Attorney General’s Office convene a panel that will select an independent counsel to investigate the allegations in the memo and release the results of that investigation to the public.