Colorado lawmakers advanced a bipartisan bill aimed at reforming the state’s system for disciplining judges Thursday evening after making numerous changes to the original proposal.
The revised version of SB22-201 passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously after the bill’s sponsors in the Senate said the three major players in the effort — the Colorado Judicial Department, the Colorado Commission on Judicial Discipline, and the lawmakers — were able to work together to reach a consensus.
The committee heard hours of testimony about the bill’s original language last week, then delayed action until various concerns could be addressed.
The revised bill now reduces the amount of information that the Judicial Department will have to provide the Commission on Judicial Discipline regarding complaints about judges, and enshrines some confidentiality — but requires the Judicial Department to provide an explanation and summary of information it withholds from the commission.
It also establishes that the Colorado Attorney General’s Office will provide an attorney to the commission, among other changes.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Pete Lee, D-El Paso County, Sen. Bob Gardner, R-El Paso County, and Rep. Mike Weissman, D-Arapahoe County, still earmarks independent funding for the Commission on Judicial Discipline, though the overall reform push for full independence is constrained by the state’s constitution, which gives only the Colorado Supreme Court the power to remove, censure or suspend judges — and blankets the process in secrecy.
Lawmakers cannot change the Colorado Constitution; any amendments would need to be put to voters. The revised bill still establishes a special committee to consider such an amendment, which Gardner on Thursday said was needed.
“We feel like the interim committee needs to bring forth a constitutional provision,” he said.
The amended bill also explicitly says the longer-term reform effort should be open to input from a variety of stakeholders, including members of the public, attorneys and bar associations, Lee said. The process should consider how to include victims of judicial misconduct in the disciplinary process, he added.
“This bill went through significant overhaul during the process as we got more and more input, so what we have today sets up a process we can feel confident that we are going to move forward,” Lee said. “We solved some of the basic problems of independent funding, basic problems of information sharing, and we will put together an interim committee which has a defined agenda to look at.”
Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Brian Boatright has said he supports reform but took issue with “serious flaws” in the original bill, even personally lobbying lawmakers about those concerns, The Denver Post found. A spokesman for the Judicial Department declined to comment Thursday.
The reform effort follows public complaints by leaders of the Colorado Commission on Judicial Discipline about the state Supreme Court exercising control over the commission’s funding, and follows reporting by The Post last year that revealed an alleged blackmail scandal and cover-up in which a top judicial administrator allegedly threatened to publicly reveal judges’ unaddressed misconduct unless she was given a lucrative state contract.
The bill’s next stop is the Senate Appropriations Committee.
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