Updated: Sep 17, 2021
The Denver Post recently published a comprehensive article about the lack of diversity in the Colorado judiciary. This is an issue of critical importance to the CWBA, and the organization is working both individually and in coalition with our sister diversity bar associations to drive change in a variety of ways.
The Denver Post article highlighted a few factors, among many, that contribute to why the courts in Colorado do not reflect our population:
structural issues with cultivation of the pipeline; that is, at every step of the process (from high school to the bench), there is a narrowing of opportunities for people from diverse backgrounds, beginning with the decision to go to law school and continuing through the various ways attorneys advance and succeed in the profession;
limited access to mentoring to ensure lawyers from diverse backgrounds are supported, included, and possess the tools to succeed;
implicit bias, beginning from law school, permeating hiring decisions, and continuing through the judicial selection process; and,
the high cost of pursuing a law degree.
Having our bench reflect who we are as a state begins with identifying and mentoring young lawyers from diverse backgrounds who may be well-suited for the bench, providing training, professional opportunities, and recognition necessary to become a viable candidate, and then ensuring that the appointment process itself is fair, unbiased, and credits the accomplishments of attorneys from diverse backgrounds even when their experiences may vary from the paradigmatic path to the bench.
Diversity bar leaders, including 2019-2020 CWBA President Sarah Parady and 2019-2020 Judicial Co-Chairs Alison Connaughty and Hetal Doshi, met with Jacki Cooper Melmed, Chief Legal Counsel to Governor Jared Polis, and her staff in 2019 to discuss the process for judicial appointment and the importance of diversity in the judiciary.
Tackling these problems will, of course, require a collective commitment to a multidisciplinary plan that addresses the structural and social barriers at every phase of the legal profession. If this issue is important to you, but you don’t know where to start, here are some things that the CWBA is doing and some ways that you can get involved:
CWBA’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee has four subcommittees. In particular, the “Pipe Up” Pipeline subcommittee is dedicated to examining the pipeline to leadership, not only in the CWBA but in the legal profession as a whole, from elementary school through law school and beyond. Other subgroups address overall inclusivity within the CWBA, transparency about the path to leadership, and cost-related barriers.
CWBA’s LIFT Mentoring Program creates a forum to mentor an attorney or to find a mentor for yourself. (Many members do both at the same time!) We partner with the Colorado Attorney Mentoring Program (CAMP) which does an excellent job pairing mentees with mentors who have experience and connections relevant to their desired career path.
“Storming the Bench” Programs. Every few years, the CWBA Programs Committee presents “Storming the Bench,” a program designed to provide lawyers with strategies and practical advice for becoming a judicial officer. This program, along with its sister programs “Storming the Ballot” and “Storming the Board,” was awarded the Outstanding Member Program Award by the National Conference of Women’s Bar Associations in 2019. The Programs Committee is currently planning a “Storming” program about getting appointed to the Judicial Nominating Committee, along with other state boards and commissions.
CWBA’s Professional Advancement Committee helps our members achieve recognition and accolades to support a bench-ready résumé. This committee helps members obtain appointments to state and local boards and commissions (including the various judicial nominating commissions) and nominates CWBA members for various awards.
CWBA’s Judicial Committee conducts a due diligence review of all “short list” judicial candidates and considers requests for endorsements. The Judicial Committee’s review process particularly considers the candidates’ treatment of women, people of color, and other minority groups, as well as each candidate’s dedication to CWBA’s overarching goal of advancing justice. CWBA encourages judicial candidates to engage with not only our endorsement process but the endorsement processes of each of our sister diversity bar associations as well.
The CWBA is a longstanding advocate for eliminating implicit bias in the judicial nominating process. The CWBA participated in a larger coalition led by the Center for Legal Inclusiveness and Justice Monica Márquez that helped create an orientation video to train new judicial nominating commissioners on implicit bias and on their important role in selecting finalists for judicial vacancies.
In 2019, CWBA followed the lead of the Asian Pacific American Bar Association (APABA) and participated in a meeting with the diversity bar associations and Governor Polis’s staff to discuss the barriers that judicial candidates from diverse backgrounds face and ways for our community to effectively give feedback during the selection process.
To address the financial barriers of attending law school, the Colorado Women’s Bar Association Foundation awards a yearly scholarship to one law student from CU and one law student from DU. If you wish to donate to the scholarship fund, you may do so here.
Patricia Jarzobski, CWBA and CBA Past President, is co-chair of the CBA & Colorado Judicial Institute’s Diversity on the Bench Coalition, along with Judge Gary Jackson. Deborah Yim serves as the CWBA board representative on the coalition, which was featured in The Denver Post article. If you are interested in getting involved in the coalition, please contact Deborah Yim at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Information about CWBA’s committees may be found here.
This is a moment where many organizations and entities are engaged with this issue and, as a result, there are many other commissions, organizations, and initiatives tackling this as well. If you’re working on such an effort and could use and some extra hands, please email us and let us know. We will gladly share all opportunities to get involved in addressing this critical issue. There is much work to be done, but don’t let that paralyze you. There are many ways, big and small, in which your voice, time, and commitment will move the needle on this issue.
In the spirit of that, here’s a call to action today:
Every CWBA member receives email announcements about all judicial vacancies in Colorado. Is there someone you know that you would like to encourage to apply? What can you do to support that person?
2019-2020 CWBA Judicial Co-Chairs Hetal J. Doshi and Emma Garrison
Hetal J. Doshi is an Assistant United States Attorney for the District of Colorado where she prosecutes complex white-collar crimes, including securities fraud, public corruption, health care fraud, and crimes arising from complex financial instruments, including cryptocurrency. Prior to her government service, Hetal spent nearly a decade in private practice at international law firms in New York City, Atlanta, and Denver. She focused on complex commercial litigation including class actions and trade secret litigation as well as government investigations arising out of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act as well as other criminal and civil investigations. Approximately eight years ago, Hetal took a one-year sabbatical to live in Nairobi, Kenya where she advised various governmental and non-governmental organizations on human rights and constitutional law issues.
Emma Garrison is an Assistant Attorney General in the Tax Unit of the Colorado Department of Law. Emma has held many leadership positions in the Colorado legal community over the years, including Chair of the Colorado Bar Association Young Lawyers Division and Senior Vice-President of the Colorado Bar Association. She currently serves on the Colorado & Denver Bar Associations’ Joint Steering Committee on Diversity, Equity, & Inclusivity as part of the working group on Accountability and Measuring. This is her seventh year serving on the Board of Directors for the Colorado Women’s Bar Association.