Dear CWBA Members,
It is my distinct honor and privilege to have served as your 2022-23 CWBA President. The year was another exceptionally busy one for the board and our organization. I thank the board and several rock star committee members for all their significant work. And the year could not have gone as smoothly as it did without the dedicated support and hard work of CWBA’s Executive Director, Kim Sporrer.
At the start of the 2022-23 year, I announced the “You Uniquely Belong” theme to guide the year and to help members and non-members feel more at home in the CWBA. Four components to that theme drove the CWBA’s work. I will use these components to highlight the CWBA’s accomplishments:
The first component: Women must know they belong in this profession and any space within the profession that they want to occupy.
A. Judicial appointments: Helping members who want to become judges
Once again, the CWBA continued to support members who are interested in becoming a judicial officer.
The Judicial Committee navigated another year of a high number of judicial vacancies. In total, the committee conducted 21 rounds of due diligence for 78 finalists. For those of you who have volunteered on this committee, you know it’s no small feat. Our confidential due diligence memos to the Governor’s office are often 15 to 20 pages in length.
I’m happy to report that the Governor appointed 11 of the candidates the CWBA endorsed. Those finalists were appointed to the following courts or judicial districts: 2nd, 4th, 11th, 15th, 16th, 17th, 19th, 21st, and the Court of Appeals. Thanks so very much to Laura Cramer-Babycz, Andrea Bronson, and Mikayla Shearer for their leadership. Thanks, too, to rock star committee member Rebecca Cohn who stepped in as an unofficial co-chair. Rebecca quickly rolled up her sleeves and jumped into the due diligence madness. I am thrilled that she has since joined the 2023-24 CWBA Board as an official Judicial Committee Co-Chair.
Additionally, we partnered with the Governor’s Office of Legal Counsel on a webinar about Colorado’s judicial appointment process and what the process was like for a newly appointed judge.
B. Helping members who want to make partner or pivot in new directions
For members who aspire to partnership in a law firm, we offered a webinar on the unique paths to partnership and what associates need to know as they navigate their own paths. For members who seek career pivots in bold, new directions, we offered a panel discussion on Profiles of Successful Pivoters at Lady Justice Brewing. Our highly accomplished panelists shared how they found support and overcame self-doubt to take their careers in atypical, yet fulfilling directions. Thanks to the Professional Advancement Committee, especially Krista Maher, Gina Simonson, and Peyton Lindley, and to Magistrate Christine Washburn and Judge Colleen Clark for their leadership.
C. Creating community through the exchange of ideas
We also offered opportunities for members to create community through thoughtful and thought-provoking discussions. Our virtual book club, led by Amy Petri Beard, introduced members to powerful stories of courageous resistance, triumph, and resilience, including The Light of Days: the Untold Story of Women Resistance Fighters in Hitler’s Ghettos by Judy Battalion and The Woman They Could not Silence by Kate Moore.
Our On What Grounds? series provided a virtual community for members from across the state to gather, connect, and discuss topics such as: learning and belonging; gentle and authentic goal setting; life lessons from board games; building and developing strong teams; women and money; and identifying and confronting our biases.
D. Empowering women attorneys to create a culture of collegiality and professionalism in rural areas
A few CWBA members in a rural part of Colorado brought to CWBA leadership’s attention their plight as women attorneys in a hostile and intimidating environment. As a result of these members’ bravery and candor, CWBA leadership engaged in conversations with key influencers to provide these women the tools needed to effectuate change in their communities.
E. Fostering belonging within our membership
To welcome and casually onboard new members, our Membership Committee led by Hannah Seigel Proff and Sylvia Geiger hosted monthly New Member Power lunches via Zoom. These gatherings enabled new members to meet each other and to learn more about the CWBA.
Additionally, the Membership Committee organized three membership socials and a couple of casual gatherings to bring our members together. Plus, our Programs Committee organized the ever-popular holiday party and moms’ luncheon.
Also, our Mentorship Committee, led by Whitney Travis-Kelly and Karin Williamson, welcomed a new cohort into its LIFT! Mentorship program and hosted a Rock Star Mentoring Forum & Virtual CLE, where attendees learned how meaningful mentorships propel career advancement. The Committee also organized events at CU and DU law schools at the start of the school year.
Finally, we conducted our first membership survey since 2017. Click here to see a copy of the 2023 Membership Survey results. We could not have accomplished this without Hannah Seigel Proff’s steady leadership and the survey-drafting and analytical skills of Dr. Rachel Ellett with the American Bar Association’s Bar Services Division. Here are some key take-aways from the more than 350 responses we received:
Top reasons for participating in the CWBA: Career path and skill set development.
Top member benefits: Networking/referrals, CLEs, and leadership training.
Top 3 issues for women in the legal field: (1) Pay equity; (2) time pressures and balance issues; and (3) opportunities for promotion and advancement of women.
71% of respondents felt that they belonged in the CWBA.
Areas for improvement, include:
The cost of attending CWBA events and CLEs;
Cost of membership;
Number and quality of events;
Time burden on volunteers; and
Financial return on events.
As this new year progresses, I anticipate you will hear more about how this survey is inspiring changes to CWBA’s member offerings, allocation of resources, and organizational structure.
Second component: For women of diverse backgrounds to know that they belong in the CWBA.
I thank the 2022-23 Board for drawing inspiration from the “You Uniquely Belong” theme to guide its work and to be intentional about inclusion and lifting up others’ experiences. For example, Judge Colleen Clark, Deborah Yim, and Dawn Gould organized a powerful fireside chat, which featured Judge Nadera Akbari, who relocated to Colorado from Afghanistan after the United States’ abrupt withdrawal and the Afghan government’s sudden collapse. In Judge Akbari’s story of bravery, tenacity, and hope, we learned about her fight for women’s rights, her path to a judgeship on the Afghan Supreme Court, and the many significant threats she and her family faced because of her fight for justice, accountability, and women’s rights.
Additionally, At-Large Rep Judge Susan Blanco and rock star CWBA members Laura Martinez and Vicki Klingensmith developed a unique pipeline program for 3rd - 5th graders called, “Lawyers Teaching for Change.” This program, which serves to diversify the legal profession’s pipeline, is active in the Denver metro area and Larimer County. Attorneys volunteer their time to present a pre-written two-day course to students. On Day 1, volunteers share their own paths into the legal profession and introduce students to the practice of the law. On Day 2, volunteers lead students in one of two scripted mock trial exercises. This program has much promise and potential. Please volunteer or recommend a school that would benefit from this program. You can read more about it on the CWBA’s website: https://www.cwba.org/lawyersteachingforchange
Third component: For chapter members to know that they belong in the CWBA.
Last year I noted that chapter members often feel disconnected from the larger CWBA organization. To help bridge that divide, I visited four of the six chapters and met with members to discuss issues they face as lawyers and ways the larger CWBA organization can better serve them.
Also, to support our chapters, At-Large Reps Judge Susan Blanco and Sonia Russo organized and hosted a Chapter Leadership Summit, which brought leaders together to discuss membership engagement and to brainstorm solutions to issues their chapters face.
Fourth component: For women to know they are equal citizens under the law.
A. Legal Services
Our Legal Services Committee led by Deborah Yim and Dawn Gould organized several events to empower women and to connect our members to pro bono opportunities. For example, the Committee hosted a three-part “Know Your Employment Rights” workshop for clients of Dress for Success, a non-profit that helps women achieve economic independence. Also, the Committee partnered with the International Rescue Committee and other immigrant non-profits to assist refugees from Afghan, Ukraine, and other countries. As a final example, Legal Services hosted a CLE on representing clients with trauma and raised $2,000 for ALIGHT, a non-profit that connects survivors of human trafficking to pro bono legal services.
B. Public Policy
From the 2022-23 board year’s beginning, our Public Policy team braced itself for an exceptionally active year. And it was. The CWBA was lucky to have a powerhouse public policy team led by Meagan Moodie, Ellen Trachman, and Ariana Busby, as well as our Aponte & Busam lobbyist team. Then-Vice President Alison Connaughty and Emma Garrison also contributed in significant ways.
Here are several public policy accomplishments:
1. Reproductive health access
The CWBA worked with a coalition to advocate for the Safe Access to Protected Health Care legislative package, which the Governor signed on April 21. This package consists of SB 23-188, SB 23-189, SB23-190. This legislation shields patients and providers from interstate prosecution, retaliation, and imprisonment for providing or receiving gender-affirming or reproductive health care. It also requires health insurance coverage for services. Thanks to Kiki Council and Chelsea Augelli for their significant work.
2. Workplace Harassment – SB 23-172 (POWR, Protecting Opportunities and Workers’ Rights)
The CWBA advocated to change the threshold for an actionable workplace harassment claim from “severe and pervasive” to a standard that prohibits unwelcome harassment, even if it is not severe and pervasive. CWBA also advocated for repealing the definition of “harass” that required the creation of a hostile work environment. The Governor signed this legislation on June 6, 2023.
3. Enhancements to the Equal Pay for Equal Work Act
The CWBA worked to strengthen the Equal Pay for Equal Work Act’s ability to hold employers accountable and to better help workers recover the wages they should have been paid. The Governor signed this legislation on June 5, 2023. Thanks to Iris Halpern, Laura Wolf, and Ellen Giarratana for their tireless work on these enhancements and on POWR.
4. Judicial Discipline Reform
CWBA began advocating for reforms to Colorado’s Judicial Discipline process in early 2021. Initial meetings with various stakeholders morphed into advocacy during the 2022 and 2023 legislative sessions. As a result of CWBA’s advocacy, three bills provide a victim-centered approach, allow for greater information-sharing among the judicial oversight bodies, and ensure greater independence for the Office of Judicial Discipline.
First, HB 23-1019 requires the Judicial Discipline Commission to publish data regarding judges under discipline/investigation, requires greater information-sharing with complainants about the status of their complaint, permits submission of anonymous or confidential requests for evaluation of misconduct, and requires entities such as the Performance and Nominating Commissions to share information about potential misconduct with the Judicial Discipline Commission. The Governor signed this legislation on June 5, 2023.
Second, House Resolution, HCR 23-1001, which was signed on May 23, 2023, proposes amendments to the state constitution regarding the judicial discipline process. These proposed amendments will be submitted to Colorado’s voters on November 2024. Proposed changes include creating an independent adjudicative board to conduct formal proceedings, requiring review of the adjudicative board’s decision by a tribunal of randomly selected judges in certain circumstances, and making proceedings public at the commencement of formal proceedings.
Third, HB 23-1205, establishes the Office of the Judicial Discipline Ombudsman and tasks the Office with duties such as creating and maintaining an anonymous reporting system, helping complainants understand their rights and options, providing complainants with referrals for support service and care, and serving as a communications liaison between the complainant and the judicial department. The Governor signed this legislation on June 7, 2023.
In sum, CWBA’s advocacy significantly shaped reforms to Colorado’s judicial discipline process. Thanks to Alison Connaughty, Ariana Busby, Emma Garrison, Robin Rossenfeld, Brooke Meyer, Becky Crotty, and several other CWBA members for their many contributions.
The CWBA had several other accomplishments that do not fit neatly into the “You Uniquely Belong” theme’s four components. Specifically:
The CWBA hired its first-ever Deputy Director. Her name is Kristen Staniewicz. Kristen has a passion for managing events that benefit a greater cause. I hope you have a chance to meet her at an upcoming CWBA event. Thanks to Past Presidents Sarah Chase-McRorie, Cat Shea, and Miranda Hawkins for their work on this hiring decision.
The DEI Committee organized a CLE program on gender affirming legal services with Bread & Roses Legal Center. 155 of you attended. Thanks to Azra Taslimi and Jenipher Jones for their work on this event.
The CWBA’s historic documents and archive collection of The Advocate have been digitized. Thanks to the History Committee and Laura Ratcliff’s and Rhoda Pilmer’s leadership on this long-pending project. This digitization project will enable greater accessibility to CWBA’s historical files.
Legacy Leaders Video of Past President and Past Mary Lathrop Award Recipient, Pamela Mackey, premiered at Convention. Thanks to Laura Ratcliff and Rhoda Pilmer for their work on this year’s Legacy Leaders Video, which features Pamela Mackey. Pamela was CWBA’s President from 1995-1996 and received the Mary Lathrop Award in 2007. You can watch the video here: https://vimeo.com/829644921.
Additional pro bono and charitable outreach. In addition to the pro bono work I mentioned earlier, the Legal Services Committee participated in a one-day takeover of the Metro Volunteer Lawyers Elder Law Power of Attorney Clinic. And, at the CWBA’s holiday party, Legal Services collected over 100 donations for Dress for Success.
The Public Policy Committee held its largest fundraiser and organized other events. To support CWBA’s lobbying and other advocacy work, the Public Policy Committee organized its most successful fundraiser, which was held at Comedy Works. The evening, which raised a net income of $23,000, featured a panel discussion on reproductive rights, followed by comedy routines, which brought levity. Earlier in the year, in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, the Committee hosted a virtual town hall for members. Later in the year, the Committee hosted our annual Legislators Appreciation Breakfast, as well as virtual ballot training to inform CWBA members of the 2022 ballot initiatives.
The Publication Committee’s blog continued to provide an important forum for members. CWBA’s award-winning The 1891 blog continued to serve as an important forum for the exchange of ideas on a wide array of topics, including:
Ukraine: Half a World Away & Close to Our Hearts by Marianna Kasharovsky & Yev Muchnik;
In Memoriam: Judge Zita Weinshienk’s Legacy by Molly Kokesh; and
Outside the Law: Lauren Schmidt on the Outside AND the Law edited by Lauren Schmidt.
The board engaged in strategic thinking about the CWBA’s future and finances. CWBA’s past work with an organizational consultant and our recent membership survey emphasized the need to streamline our board and better channel our resources into fewer, but more impactful events and activities. Thanks to Emma Garrison’s leadership of the Strategic Planning Working Group, the 2022-23 Board approved a proposal for a more streamlined organization. Also, thanks to Monica Rosenbluth’s leadership, the Finance Working Group looked at ways CWBA can realize more from its financial assets.
In sum, 2022-23 was an exceptional year for the CWBA, replete with opportunities for members to engage, network, and contribute to the community. Whether you participated in some or many activities this year, I hope you discovered or felt the many ways you uniquely belong within this organization. Each of you is an essential part of the CWBA. Thank you for the opportunity to have served as this organization’s president.
Kathryn Starnella was the 2022-23 CWBA President.