Colorado auditor to look into allegations of contract for silence in Judicial Department
Colorado Auditor Dianne Ray said her office will investigate allegations that a $2.5 million dollar Judicial Department contract was given to a former employee who threatened to file a tell-all sexual discrimination lawsuit if she was fired.
Ray confirmed the information after House Speaker Alec Garnett, D-Denver, told The Denver Post the auditor will fold the inquiry into a broader fraud investigation that office has been conducting of the department since mid-2019.
Senate President Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo, on Friday called the allegations “astonishing” and said discussions are underway over how to ensure “total accountability, total transparency” in an inquiry, including any by the Legislature.
Facing termination, Mindy Masias, the department’s former chief of staff and its one-time director of human resources, was ready to file a sex discrimination lawsuit that would include more than 20 examples of misdeeds by judges and other high-level department employees, according to former State Court Administrator Christopher Ryan, who approved the deal.
“These allegations are extremely concerning and members of the Legislature, including myself, are deeply bothered by what’s been reported,” Garnett wrote The Post in an email. “There is an ongoing investigation … that is looking at some of the issues that have been reported. We cannot tolerate harassment in any workplace, and the judiciary must lead by example and ensure that it does not happen in our court system.”
Garnett said the Legislature could still become involved.
“I wouldn’t rule out further oversight by the Legislature if it is needed to get to the bottom of what has been alleged,” he wrote.
Garcia said discussions are ongoing about whether committees can have their own inquiries when the Legislature reconvenes on Feb. 16.
“We have a lot of different leverages we can exercise for full accountability,” Garcia said. “As we peel back the layers, we have to have accountability and my fear is a lack of integrity, especially at the highest levels of our Supreme Court.”
Similarly, Sen. Pete Lee, D-Colorado Springs, and Rep. Michael Weissman, D-Aurora – the chairmen of the House and Senate judiciary committees – told The Post they are discussing what role they might have in any investigation.
The auditor last month issued a scathing report of the State Court Administrator’s Office’s overall performance that in part focused on the $2.5 million judicial training contract given to Masias.
That audit took 18 months to produce and was the result of a Denver Post investigation that uncovered the details behind the contract. The stories also led to Ryan’s resignation after the Masias contract was canceled, as well as the resignation of other high-level employees.
The memo was not mentioned in the audit and Ray will not say if auditors were aware of its existence.
Because the auditor’s fraud inquiry falls under the state’s fraud hotline, any result would not be public unless wrongdoing was found and criminal charges filed. Auditors don’t have prosecutorial authority and can only recommend charges to the attorney general or a district attorney, depending on the nature of the alleged crime.
The auditor began investigating allegations of fraud and subsequent cover-ups within the Judicial Department in May 2019 after an anonymous whistleblower letter was sent to the governor’s office and the Supreme Court. In it, the tipster refers to problems at the Judicial Department including wasteful spending, employees on unexplained paid leave for months at a time, and employees getting paid to speak at conferences without taking time off.
Ryan came forward with details about the memo and how, in a meeting with then-Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan “Ben” Coats and others, they decided Masias should get the contract as a way to forestall the lawsuit. Masias faced termination over financial irregularities and had been on family medical leave when the decision was made.
Ryan has refused to disclose any of the names listed in the memo or any details of the conduct it alleges, but did describe them as “gut-wrenching” and “reprehensible.”
The contract was put up for public bid in January 2019 after several people, including Ryan and then-human resources director Eric Brown, crafted the requirements for any company interested in bidding, known as a request for proposal. Nearly 400 companies were aware of the contract, and dozens of companies expressed interest, but none bid. Several companies told The Post that they believed the requirements of the contract were too narrowly focused for them to offer a proposal.
Masias had formed a new company, The Leadership Practice, while still a state employee, but also did not bid. She resigned March 19, 2019, and Brown officially recommended Masias receive the contract the next day.
The Supreme Court on Thursday denied Ryan’s allegations in a letter sent to judges and department employees statewide and acquired by The Post. It did not reference the memo, which the department has fought Denver Post efforts to obtain under the agency’s open-records rules, and has refused the newspaper’s requests for comment.
The justices all approved of Masias getting the contract and said Coats kept them appraised of the developments behind it, but it’s unclear whether they were aware of the memo or the reason Ryan said the contract was offered.
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