Colorado Judicial Department says contract-for-silence allegations by former top official are false
The Colorado Judicial Department on Thursday told its employees and judges statewide that allegations a multimillion-dollar contract was given to an employee to silence a potential tell-all lawsuit are false.
Former State Court Administrator Chris Ryan, the second-highest administrative job in the state court system under the chief justice of the Supreme Court, told The Denver Post that a $2.5 million training contract he signed was intended to stop Mindy Masias from filing a sexual discrimination lawsuit that would expose misconduct she knew of during a 20-year career. She was facing termination.
“The Judicial Department categorically denies that the contract for leadership training was awarded to The Leadership Practice in June 2019 due to blackmail or to keep information about the department quiet,” according to a memo circulated to its employees and acquired by The Post.
Reached Thursday night, Ryan stood by his assertions that Masias was prepared to go public with details about misdeeds by more than 20 judges and other court officials. He said the contract, as well as other financial benefits given to her on her resignation, were in return for not filing a sex-discrimination lawsuit against the department.
“They’re trying to say it’s their word, the revered public servants, against me, the discredited public servant,” Ryan said of the department’s response. “They’re riding it for all its worth to evade any personal responsibility.”
In his earlier interviews with The Post, Ryan described an internal memo that highlights the lawsuit threat, a copy of which the department has refused to release to The Denver Post. The department last week also issued a cease and desist order to Ryan saying he was not authorized to speak publicly about it.
Ryan said the memo was the reason for a January 2019 meeting in which he, Eric Brown, the memo’s author and the department’s human resources director, then-Chief Justice Nathan Coats and his counsel, Andrew Rottman, discussed the possible Masias lawsuit and offering the contract was suggested.
“The notion that former Chief Justice (Nathan) Coats and his counsel Andrew Rottman — both dedicated public servants – would ever authorize the use of state resources to silence a blackmailer is simply false,” the department’s letter Thursday read.
The letter does not reference the memo.
The department and all parties related to the story were contacted multiple times by The Post throughout its reporting and did not respond to its efforts seeking comment. A spokesman for the Supreme Court said the unsigned letter issued Thursday was authored “by the Court” and refused to answer any questions or make any person with first-hand knowledge of the memo available for an interview.
Separately, Chief Justice Brian Boatright added his own note to employees Thursday: “Although the department strongly denies the allegations in the Denver Post story, reading it is gut-wrenching and demoralizing.”
He added: “At its core, however, it serves as a reminder that we need to ensure that we have a safe work environment for everyone, that any allegation of wrongdoing is fully investigated, and if wrongdoing is found, that there is full accountability of anyone’s position.”
Boatright’s note did not say whether Ryan’s allegations were to be investigated.
“I was there,” Ryan said after reading the letter Thursday. “I know what happened. What was in the (Post) article is accurate. The court is characterizing it in a way that is not accurate because there’s no contradictory source but me. They’re simply not being truthful.”
The court on Thursday said Coats authorized the Masias contract only after she resigned and with Ryan’s “strong recommendation.”
Masias resigned in March 2019, two months after forming her company while still on medical leave from the department. She took the leave in November 2018 when she learned she was to be fired from her job as the chief of staff in the State Court Administrator’s Office because of financial irregularities.
Ryan said Brown authored the memo and the two brought the matter to Coats and Rottman in a meeting in which it was decided to give Masias the contract.
“The contract was our idea, a way to appease her, to give her a softer landing, a contract she was certainly qualified to do, but also to prevent the lawsuit,” Ryan said.
Although Brown had already written up a sole-source contract for Masias, Ryan insisted it first go to public bid. Nearly 400 companies received notice of the contract, but none bid, not even Masias, who was still a state employee.
The deal was then approved and Masias signed the contract in April 2019.
Thursday’s court letter said the contract was canceled July 17, 2019, “after learning that important information was withheld from Chief Justice Coats.”
That information, Ryan said, was that Masias had secretly tape recorded a conversation with then-Chief Justice Nancy Rice in a discussion about why Masias had not been promoted to state court administrator in 2017.
“That disclosure was on the second page of the memo Brown wrote,” Ryan said, explaining that Coats stopped Brown from reading the memo at the first of two pages during the January 2019 meeting. “It was going to be read to him, but he stopped it.”
Ryan actually canceled Masias’ contract for technical reasons including not undergoing a background check as required, according to those documents. He resigned his position the next day.
Not mentioning the memo in its letter Thursday is a glaring omission by the justices, Ryan said.
He added: “Any other person present and involved in these events isn’t talking. Two have non-disclosure agreements and the others are a current judicial employee and the former chief justice. All of them have their own interests in portraying the events that occurred differently. They’re riding it for all its worth to evade any personal responsibility.”
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