Colorado courts consider mandatory diversity training for all attorneys

A months-long campaign to require Colorado attorneys to complete regular training on diversity, equity and inclusion reached the Colorado Supreme Court Tuesday, setting the state up to join only a handful of others that mandate such education.

The proposal would require attorneys to complete two hours of training on diversity, equity and inclusion every three years as part of 45 hours of ongoing professional education that is already required by the state. About 20 people spoke Tuesday both for and against the change during a public hearing before the supreme court justices, who will decide whether to adopt the training requirement.

“Too many lawyers do not know of their duty to avoid bias, discrimination or harassment,” Ruth Moore, with the Colorado Women’s Bar Association, told the justices after recounting instances of gender discrimination that association members faced on the job. “…When we know better, we do better.”

The campaign to make the change started in earnest last summer, during the widespread protests over racial inequity, attorneys said, and was bolstered by recent allegations of corruption and sexism in the Judicial Branch that were reported by The Denver Post this spring.

“We just felt, based on what we were seeing in society, it was our turn, we needed to take action,” 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 the training has been called for in Colorado; an effort in 2017 to add the mandatory education failed. More than 110 people submitted written comments to the state Supreme Court on the proposal, a volume that Justice Monica Márquez on Tuesday called “extraordinary.”

About 75% of commenters wrote in favor of the training. Those who opposed the effort expressed concern about the court system taking an ideological stance or pushing a political agenda on attorneys. Others said the training would be ineffective.

“It’s wrong for the Court to use its rulemaking power to impose on Colorado attorneys a regimen of political indoctrination under the guise of continuing legal education,” attorney Don Trinen wrote. “The proposed regulation…is gibberish.”

Colorado’s court system as a whole lacks racial diversity, The Denver Post found last summer, and the state’s attorneys follow the same trend, according to a 2019 survey conducted by the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel.

There are about 27,000 active attorneys in the state. Of the 7,000 who were surveyed, 86% were white, 6% were Hispanic, 3% were Black. That doesn’t proportionally reflect the state’s overall population, which is about 22% Hispanic and 5% Black.

Annie Martínez, immediate past president of the Colorado Hispanic Bar Association, said Tuesday she’s often mistaken for an interpreter or defendant while on the job. Once, when she tried to enter an area of the courtroom set aside for attorneys and court staff, a sheriff’s deputy physically barred her from doing so, she said.

“I had a sheriff put her arm out and hit me across the chest and say, ‘Where do you think you’re going, sit with everyone else,’” Martínez said. “…I told her I’m an attorney and she was like, ‘No you’re not; I don’t know you.’”

It was not until a nearby prosecutor vouched for Martínez that she was allowed to continue, she said. She hopes the proposed training requirement, which she pushed for, will be a small but concrete step to making widespread change.

“It’s really part of our professionalism and our ethical obligation to understand there is a disparate impact on Black and brown people in the justice system, period,” she said. “And we are all cogs in that wheel as attorneys.”

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