A month-long campaign urging Colorado attorneys to receive regular training on diversity, justice, and inclusion reached the Colorado Supreme Court on Tuesday, mandating the state to join only a handful of others who mandate such training .
The proposal calls for lawyers to complete two hours of diversity, equity and inclusion training every three years to complete 45-hour professional development already required by the state. About 20 people spoke out for and against the change, which will determine whether to adopt the training requirements, during a public hearing before Supreme Court justices Tuesday.
“Too many attorneys do not know that they have an obligation to avoid bias, discrimination, or harassment,” Ruth Moore of the Colorado Women’s Bar Association told judges after reporting cases of gender discrimination faced by association members at work were exposed. “… If we know better, we will do better.”
The campaign to make the change began in earnest last summer, during widespread protests against racial inequality, lawyers said, and was bolstered by recent allegations of corruption and sexism in the Justice Department reported by the Denver Post this spring.
“We just felt that it was our turn to take action based on what we saw in society,” said Christine Hernandez, a past president of the Colorado Hispanic Bar Association.
Colorado would be the 11th state to require such training. The current effort is at least the second time training has been scheduled in Colorado. An attempt in 2017 to add compulsory training failed. More than 110 people have submitted written comments to the state Supreme Court on the proposal, a tape that Justice Monica Márquez described Tuesday as “exceptional”.
About 75% of the commentators spoke out in favor of the training. Those who resisted the effort expressed concern that the judicial system is adopting an ideological stance or promoting a political agenda for lawyers. Others said the training was ineffective.
“It is wrong for the court to use its rule-making powers to impose a regime of political indoctrination on Colorado attorneys under the guise of legal education,” wrote Attorney Don Trinen. “The proposed regulation … is gibberish.”
According to a 2019 survey by the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel, Colorado’s court system exhibits racial diversity overall, as the Denver Post found last summer, and prosecutors are following the same trend.
There are approximately 27,000 active lawyers in the state. Of the 7,000 respondents, 86% were white, 6% Spanish and 3% black. This does not reflect proportionally the total population of the state, which is 22% Hispanic and 5% black.
Annie Martínez, immediate past president of the Colorado Hispanic Bar Association, said Tuesday she was often mistaken for an interpreter or a defendant while at work. Once when she tried to enter an area of the courtroom reserved for lawyers and court staff, she was physically prevented from doing so by a deputy sheriff, she said.
“I had a sheriff hold out her arm and hit my chest and say, ‘Where do you think you are going, sit down with everyone else,” said Martínez. “… I told her I was a lawyer and she said: ‘No, you’re not; I don’t know you.’ “
Only when a nearby prosecutor vouched for Martínez was she allowed to proceed, she said. She hopes the proposed training requirement she pushed for will be a small but tangible step in making major changes.
“It is really part of our professionalism and our ethical obligation to understand that the judiciary has different effects on the black and brown people in the justice system,” she said. “And we’re all gears in that wheel as lawyers.”