The Colorado Supreme Court has tweaked its rules for judges to more explicitly prohibit them from harassing or retaliating against court personnel.
The change, made in June and announced to employees by Chief Justice Brian Boatright in an email earlier this month, comes after seven current and former judicial employees told The Denver Post this spring that they faced pervasive sexism and a toxic work environment while on the job, and that women who spoke up about problems were retaliated against.
“Both harassment and retaliation have long been prohibited by the Code (of Judicial Conduct), and these changes are designed to make that even more clear,” Boatright wrote in the July 1 email, obtained by The Post. He declined to comment Tuesday.
The Code of Judicial Conduct now explicitly prohibits judges from retaliating against current and former judicial employees, attorneys or members of the public who report misconduct. It also offers new guidance for judges on how to respond to judicial or lawyer misconduct.
“Public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary is promoted when judges take appropriate action based on reliable evidence of misconduct,” the new paragraph reads. “Appropriate action depends on the circumstances, but the overarching goal of such action should be to prevent harm to those affected by misconduct and to prevent recurrence.”
Boatright acknowledged in February that the state’s courts faced a “crisis of confidence” after The Post published allegations by former State Court Administrator Christopher Ryan that high-ranking judicial officials — including now-retired Chief Justice Nathan “Ben” Coats — agreed to give a $2.5 million contract to a former top administrator in order to prevent her from speaking out about judges’ misconduct.
The state Supreme Court has agreed to an independent investigation into the allegations, and Coats’ role in the alleged deal also is under investigation by the state’s Attorney Regulation Counsel.
In addition to changing the rules for judges, the State Court Administrator’s Office also added to its internal intranet to “encourage and simplify reporting of harassment or discrimination and to make it easier for those employees to find information on reporting and the investigation process,” Boatright said in the July 1 email.
Jessica Zender, a former Judicial Department employee, said Tuesday she was skeptical the new rules will actually change behavior within the court system.
“Codes of conduct are worthless if those charged with exemplifying and enforcing them are corrupt,” she said. “The things that happened, or are alleged to have happened, were already against ‘the rules.’ New rules can’t change a culture in which leaders are uninterested in change.”
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