Local lawyers investigating Colorado Supreme Court could raise concerns

Bizar Male

Dozens of Colorado law firms have downloaded information about a $350,000 state contract to investigate allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct in the Supreme Court, raising the possibility that local lawyers could conduct an inquiry into the actions of the agency that regulates and disciplines them.

More than 70 companies from 16 states have downloaded the court’s request for proposal soliciting bids for the two-pronged investigative contract, according to procurement records reviewed by The Denver Post.

Of those, 32 are law firms in Colorado, including notable names such as Holland & Hart, Ballard Spahr, Ireland Stapleton Pryor & Pascoe, and Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck.

That leaves experts on legal ethics wondering of potential conflicts of interest, though they’d not automatically disqualify local firms from participating.

“The more pertinent issue is whether to be concerned about investigating the judicial branch if you have cases before the Supreme Court or those judges you are investigating and if retaliation or favorable treatment are considerations,” said Eli Wald, a professor of legal ethics at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law. “But to suggest that any judge at any level might retaliate against a law firm merely because it’s investigating allegations is a bit tenuous.”

Discipline against lawyers licensed in Colorado is handled by the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel within the state Supreme Court, which also handles matters dealing with violations of its rules of professional conduct.

The contract pays up to $250,000 for the workplace harassment inquiry and up to $100,000 for an investigation into allegations that a $2.5 million five-year contract given to former Supreme Court Administrator’s Office Chief of Staff Mindy Masias was in return for silencing a tell-all sexual discrimination lawsuit she planned to bring.

“If we think the expertise of lawyers is relative and helpful for this investigation, I’m not sure we can avoid the problem of a potential conflict,” Wald said. “The type of firm that would handle this – a national firm that is very large – is likely to have cases before the court.”

Organizations that downloaded the RFP are more likely to be monitoring the process than looking to bid on the contract. They include the Colorado Women’s Bar Association, the Colorado Office of the Alternate Defense Counsel, Denver’s Office of the Independent Monitor, and the National Center for State Courts, for whom Masias was a frequent lecturer.

The inquiry comes as a result of Denver Post stories that initially detailed the Masias contract in 2019, then in February 2020 revealed the existence of a two-page memo that highlighted judicial department misconduct Masias, who was being fired, was allegedly prepared to make public in a lawsuit.

Bids to take on the inquiry were accepted through Friday and a panel of “independent and diverse group of professional individuals” will evaluate and select one, according to the RFP.

There is no timeline for the selection process, according to proposal documents, nor a timeline for when the inquiry must be completed. It does contain a provision that would allow up to four one-year extensions to the contract.

The inquiry results are to be in a public report, according to Supreme Court Chief Justice Brian Boatright, who called for the investigation after releasing the memo following the Post’s stories.

 

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