Briefline

Colorado Chief Justice shares outlook on judicial branch with legislators

By: - January 13, 2023 3:45 pm

Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Brian Boatright speaks in front of a joint session of the Colorado General Assembly on Jan. 13, 2013. (Sara Wilson/Colorado Newsline)

Chief Justice Brian Boatright of the Colorado Supreme Court laid out his priorities for the state’s judicial branch and threw his support behind two proposed bills aimed at increasing transparency in the judicial discipline process during an address to the Legislature on Friday.

It was the first State of the Judiciary since investigations into the branch’s pattern of covering up workplace misconduct concluded last summer.

“Today, I’m not going to dwell on the past,” Boatright said. “Instead of treading back on history, I want to tell you what we learned and what we’re doing in the future.”

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One of the investigations identified the existence of “toxic relationships, factionalism, and a lack of accountability for key leaders” in the branch’s administrative offices. The other had to do with workplace culture and showed women had a less favorable experience in the office.

Those findings helped inform three priorities Boatright laid out on Friday in improving business operations, empowering employees and listening to stakeholders. He highlighted a budget request from the judicial branch that would support an organizational ombudsman to “act as a guide for employees when they have concerns.”

They would “provide a safe place for employees to get assistance, resources and support for workplace issues involving non-judge staff,” Boatright said.

Boatright also spoke about the importance of modernizing the branch’s human resources practices so it has a focus on diversity, equity and inclusion.

There has been an increase in the share of people of color sitting on Colorado court benches, from 10% in 2018 to about 17% today. There are 19 Black trial judges in office. About 77% of the current non-judge staff are women, he said, but he learned during a listening tour last year that the population has a less positive view of the workplace.

“Most upsetting to me was learning that some of our employees did not feel comfortable reporting unacceptable behavior or workplace concerns for fear of retaliation or they didn’t believe it would be taken seriously,” he said. “That is not okay, and we will do better.”

Another concern Boatright said he heard often was about low compensation. He said that many employees he met work two jobs in order to make ends meet and that the branch is losing employees frequently to better-paying jobs.

He hopes that better training will also reduce turnover and increase employee satisfaction.

“We need to do a better job of onboarding and training our staff,” he said. “Failing to properly support our employees from the start and provide continuous training leads to frustration, performance issues and more turnover.”

In his speech, Boatright endorsed two measures the Legislature will consider this session, the product of an interim committee on judicial discipline. It would ask Colorado voters to approve a new, more transparent procedure for judicial discipline investigations.

“The legislation reflects a true bipartisan effort and are good, common-sense changes,” he said.

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Sara Wilson
Sara Wilson

Sara Wilson covers state government, Colorado's congressional delegation, energy and other stories for Newsline. She formerly was a reporter for The Pueblo Chieftain, where she covered politics and government in southern Colorado. Wilson earned a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University, and as a student she reported on Congress and other federal beats in Washington, D.C.

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