March 20, 2023

Colorado State Legislature Introduces Bill to Create Courts Ombuds

The Colorado State House of Representatives is considering a bipartisan bill to create an Office of Judicial Ombudsman. HB23-1205 was co-sponsored by Representatives Mike Lynch (R-Minority Leader) and Jennifer Bacon (D-Assistant Majority Leader). The bill approved unanimously by the Judiciary Committee and has been sent to Appropriations. The intent of the legislation is to create a typical Organizational Ombuds program. It is clear about the Ombuds being confidential and independent, but it lacks explicit language about neutrality and informality.

Here's the summary prepared by the Colorado Legislative Council Office:
The bill establishes the Office of the Judicial Discipline Ombudsman (office) in the Department of Personnel and Administration (DPA) as an independent office of the Commission on Judicial Discipline. The bill also establishes the Judicial Discipline Ombudsman Selection Board, to be appointed no later than January 1, 2024, to appoint the ombudsman by March 1, 2024, and to oversee the office.

The ombudsman’s powers and duties primarily include creating and maintaining an anonymous reporting system for Judicial Department personnel to submit complaints, and managing the process. The ombudsman will investigate and report on instances of misconduct received, and is required to report grievance trends and data collected to the Commission on Judicial Discipline, the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel, law enforcement, and the Judicial Department. The ombudsman is also required to serve as a liaison between complainants and various community and mental health resources.

Records related to complaints received by the office are exempt from the Colorado Open Records Act. The office may promulgate rules to support its operations.
In it's first full year, the Office of Judicial Ombudsman is expected to employ 4.5 FTE staff members with a total annual budget of about $610,000. (CO Legis Bill Info, Fiscal Note; CO Capitol Watch Info; Colorado News Wire.)

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