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March 15, 2023

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

DENVER, CO – The House Judiciary Committee 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 outcome of the Interim Committee on Judicial Discipline. 

“After leading months of investigations and deliberative work with the Interim Committee on Judicial Discipline, we’ve developed legislation and a constitutional amendment that will improve judicial discipline, protect those engaging with the courts, and increase transparency,” said Rep. Mike Weissman, Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, D-Aurora. “Independent oversight will hold the judicial branch accountable when misconduct occurs. Our bipartisan measures will modernize judicial discipline in our state and create a simpler process for filing judicial complaints. These measures set in motion a much-needed overhaul of the state’s judicial discipline process to ensure Coloradans can seek justice when inappropriate conduct occurs, increase the transparency of disciplinary actions, and restore trust in our courts.”

“Misconduct in the judicial system is a serious concern, and the public must have assurance the procedures are just, fair, and above board. Our ultimate goal as legislators will be to continue to focus both the sunlight and transparency into our state’s too often mysterious judiciary,” said Minority Leader Mike Lynch, R-Wellington. “These bills are the result of many months of bipartisan work to find the best solution for more transparent, efficient, and accountable procedures for our judicial disciplinary process. I want to thank my colleague across the aisle for working with me to serve the best interests of the people of Colorado.”

“Improving oversight of Colorado’s judicial discipline process will help us turn the page on a troublesome chapter for our courts and build trust that judges will always conduct themselves with the utmost integrity and respect,” said Rep. Jennifer Bacon, Vice Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, D-Denver. “Our bill creates an ombudsman office for judicial department employees, so they can anonymously and securely report complaints against judges. This bipartisan plan to modernize our state’s judicial discipline system will improve the department's transparency with the public and protect those who come before the court.”

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 Judiciary Committee 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 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 judge, attorney, and civilian members.

HB23-1019, sponsored by Rep. Mike Weissman and Minority Leader Mike Lynch, passed 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 unanimously. 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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