Investigation into Colorado judicial scandal finds unethical behavior, but no contract-for-silence deal #Investigation #Colorado #judicial #scandal #finds #unethical #behavior #contractforsilence #deal Welcome to JeroVibes:
The controversial $2.75 million contract given to a former top Colorado Judicial Department official as she left her job was steeped in unethical behavior, misconduct and lies — but it wasn’t specifically designed to keep her from speaking out about judges’ misconduct, an independent investigation into the judicial scandal found Wednesday.
Three top judicial officials brazenly pursued the lucrative contract, leveraging a toxic work environment in which they were beholden to no one and the one person with authority over them — then-Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Coats was out-of-touch, easily manipulated and ill-equipped to manage a branch of government, according to an investigative report released Wednesday and authored by former U.S. Attorney Bob Troyer and former Denver independent monitor Nick Mitchell through Troyer’s firm, RCT Ltd.
The trio then-State Court Administrator Chris Ryan, then-Human Resources Director Eric Brown and then-Chief of Staff Mindy Masias lied to, mislead or intimidated anyone who objected to giving the five-year contract to Masias, the investigation found, and were able to do so successfully because of significant lapses in leadership, policies and procedures within the Colorado Judicial Department.
“There is no way to sugarcoat the uncomfortable findings of RCTs investigation,” Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Brian Boatright said in a statement Wednesday. “However, with new leadership throughout the State Court Administrator’s Office since these events, I believe that we have made significant progress in addressing many of the issues that the report identifies.”
The investigation found that the State Court Administrators office was so dysfunctional at the time that employees routinely kept book on the misconduct of others rather than reporting it to human resources or other authorities in order to use that information as leverage if they themselves ever faced discipline on the job.
Remarkably, this strategy seemed to work, the report notes. The behavior was rewarded, such employees were often granted paid leave upon termination, and non-disclosure terms were inserted into their termination agreements.
That approach was one of several tactics used by Brown, Masias and Ryan as they sought to convince Coats to give a $2.75 million leadership training contract to Masias, a longtime employee who was facing termination over mishandling money.
In late 2018 or early 2019, Ryan met with the chief justice, detailed past misconduct by judges and judicial department officials that Masias knew about, and pushed Coats to award Masias the contract, which had been in discussion for at least three months prior, according to the report.
Ryan in early 2021 alleged in The Denver Post that the contract was given to stop Masias from publicly revealing judges unaddressed misconduct. But investigators found he did not explicitly tell Coats that Masias was threatening to sue if she was not awarded the contract.
Brown and Masias had had success with intimidation tactics in the past and, as Brown said, Masias was very angry about how she had been treated, the report reads. Here, though, they misjudged. Ryan had already convinced Coats that the contract was the right path. And Ryan had already convinced Coats that Masias was vital to his plans for improving the (State Court Administrators Office). Though Masias, Brown, and Ryan may have thought it would cement Coatss approval, the dirt did not motivate him. We found no credible evidence that Coatss attitude, conduct, or motive was influenced by a desire to hide the alleged misconductThe ‘dirt’ lever did not affect Coats as they thought it would. Coats was misled, and his judgment failed him on other fronts, but he did not approve the contract to silence Masias.
Ryan, who refused to speak with RCT’s investigators, on Wednesday said the investigation was improperly swayed by the Colorado Judicial Department and accused officials of creating a narrative designed to protect the branch.
“As demonstrated repeatedly by the actions of the Supreme Court, and the Judicial Branch as a whole to restrict the availability of information to the investigating entities…they will take whatever action is necessary to control the narrative and protect the black robes,” he said in a text message. “While I have great respect for Mr. Troyer, I elected not to participate in his investigation because even with a fair dealer, you don’t stand a chance in a rigged game.”
While Ryan did not explicitly frame the contract as a quid-pro-quo to Coats — and in fact Coats said he would not make any concessions about Masias’s termination no matter what “dirt” she had — Ryan and Brown did frame the deal as a contract-for-silence in a discussion with Terri Morrison, the Judicial Departments attorney, and warned her “not to talk to anyone else about it,” the investigators found.
Brown and Ryan told Morrison that in order to avoid a lawsuit and prevent the public revelation of this dirt, the Department needed to secure a leadership training contract for Masias, the report reads. Morrison objected and was shocked…she was adamant that none of this was a proper reason to contract with Masias. After the meeting, Morrison also told Ryan that for several reasons Masiass threat was empty and she did not have a valid gender-discrimination claim. Ryan appeared to ignore Morrisons advice.
Masias only agreed to resign after Morrison arranged for her to meet with Coats and Ryan to pitch the training contract. Morrison and several other employees who were concerned about the contract did not speak up to Coats or stop the contract from going to Masias, the investigation found.
“There was a pervasive fear of opposing Masias, Brown or Ryan in any way,” the investigators wrote. “The fear-based culture deterred reliable information-sharing, rewarded silence and self-protection, led to lax enforcement of Court rules, and minimized accountability.”
Brown and Masias “flaunted (an) inappropriate personal relationship,” the investigators found, disregarded rules when it suited them, maintained “dictatorial and vindictive” control over their staff and were perceived as having the “unilateral discretion to receive, investigate and resolve complaints against judges and the Supreme Court justices,” the investigators found.
“This created the perception for some that Masias was serving as a ‘fixer’ for the court who had the power to make complaints against judges disappear if it served her interests,” the investigators found. “And it further caused employees to fear coming forward with their concerns about the contract.”
The contract was canceled after the Denver Post reported on the deal and no money was paid to Masias; Ryan resigned in 2019.
RCT Ltd’s investigation is one of six launched after the full scandal was made public last year. Two, including RCT’s, were commissioned by the Judicial Department itself. RCT is the first of those two investigations to conclude and comes amid an effort by state legislators to reform the way discipline for judges is handled in the state.
The legislators are holding a series of public meetings on the reform effort this summer; the next is scheduled for July 12 at the state capitol.
The RCT investigators made 14 recommendations for reform within the Colorado Judicial Department, including changing the culture of the State Court Administrator’s Office, better preparing the chief justice to take on administrative leadership of the branch and enhancing oversight and increasing public transparency.
In addition to RCT’s investigation, the judicial department hired Investigations Law Group to examine claims of judicial misconduct and widespread harassment and sexism within the court system. That investigation was delayed by overwhelming response — more than 100 people sought to speak with investigators — and is expected to finish by July 29.