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April 6, 2023

JOINT RELEASE: Bipartisan Legislation to Overhaul Judicial Discipline and Improve Transparency Passes House

DENVER, CO – The House today passed two bipartisan bills and a resolution sponsored by Representative Mike Weissman, Assistant Majority Leader Jennifer Bacon and Minority Leader Mike Lynch to improve judicial discipline and transparency in Colorado. 

The legislative package, which includes a resolution to refer a constitutional amendment to the ballot, is the result of recommendations by the Interim Committee on Judicial Discipline. 

“The passage of this legislation and constitutional amendment are the direct result of the constructive, deliberative work conducted by the Interim Committee on Judicial Discipline to increase transparency and restore trust in Colorado’s court system,” said Rep. Mike Weissman, Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, D-Aurora. “Our bipartisan measures work in tandem to modernize our state’s judicial discipline system, simplify the process for filing judicial complaints and prioritize those seeking justice. Independent oversight of the judicial branch strengthens our courts and gives Coloradans a direct avenue for reporting misconduct.”  

“I am glad to see that our hard work and bipartisan collaboration have come together for the people of Colorado on these bills. They aim to bring important reforms to Colorado's judicial system through a rare but necessary modification to the state constitution,” said Minority Leader Mike Lynch, R-Wellington. “This is a result of carefully thought-out remedies to address issues apparent in our judiciary system. Our legislation will provide much needed transparency and hopefully restore confidence where needed.”

“Transparency and trust go hand-in-hand, and this modernization of Colorado’s judicial discipline process will increase clarity for all involved,” said Rep. Jennifer Bacon, Vice Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, D-Denver. “This bipartisan legislation creates a safe, clear path outside of the judicial department for employees to report misconduct anonymously. The creation of an ombudsman office addresses staff issues in the department. While not all issues stem from judges, this bill expands state’s judicial discipline reporting system, which will help rebuild public trust in our courts.”

In 2022, the Colorado Legislature passed SB22-201, which created the Interim Committee on Judicial Discipline to review and modernize judicial oversight in Colorado. Today, the House passed three measures to overhaul the state’s judicial discipline process, which to date has been largely conducted out of the public eye, with less information available to the public about discipline proceedings than is available in other states, and without mechanisms to provide timely updates to complainants themselves.

HCR23-1001, sponsored by Rep. Mike Weissman and Minority Leader Mike Lynch, passed the House unanimously. If passed by voters in the November 2024 general election, this constitutional amendment would restore balance to Colorado’s judicial system by limiting the Supreme Court’s current power over discipline proceedings. Under this bipartisan constitutional amendment, complaints against judges would be addressed by the Colorado Commission on Judicial Discipline and a newly created Independent Judicial Discipline Adjudicative Board. The commission would handle initial proceedings and later, formal proceedings would be handled by the board, which will be comprised evenly of a judge, attorney, and civilian members.

HB23-1019, sponsored by Rep. Mike Weissman and Minority Leader Mike Lynch, passed the House unanimously. In an effort to increase judicial discipline transparency, this bill would require the Commission on Judicial Discipline to report and publicize aggregated information on the complaints it receives and investigations it conducts regarding judges and the type of discipline imposed or recommended. HB23-1019 allows Coloradans to submit a request for evaluation to the commission online and requires the commission to provide updates to complainants about the status of investigations into their complaints.

HB23-1205, sponsored by Assistant Majority Leader Jennifer Bacon and Minority Leader Mike Lynch passed the House by vote of  53 to 10. This bill would create an external, independent Office of the Judicial Discipline Ombudsman so judicial department employees can seek guidance about workplace issues and possible situations of judicial or staff misconduct. Under this bill, the ombudsman office would create and maintain an anonymous reporting system for employees, investigate claims, and report grievance trends to the Commission on Judicial Discipline, the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel, law enforcement, and the judicial department. 

This legislation aims to create a safe, clear path outside of the judicial department for judicial employees to report misconduct, without fear of retaliation or their claims not being taken seriously.

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