Staiert: Open court records to expose sexual harassment from the bench

Colorado Politics: I don’t know many women who haven’t experienced harassment, but until recently I hadn’t met any who filed a complaint or spoke publicly. Why is this? Because there’s no upside; most people don’t care. Every workplace has a process to handle complaints, but there is little interest in culture change. Six years ago when I contemplated filing a sexual harassment complaint, my husband had the following observation: Four men will get in the room, at least one of them will have done it, and that will be the end of your job. That’s exactly what happened.

My story has a lot in common with other women in the workplace. It began when I was the city attorney in Littleton and they hired a new municipal court judge.  He started dropping by, a lot, because he was “thinking about me.” Then came the unwanted touching, inappropriate gifts (a body massage certificate, accompanied by a suggestive photo, “because you don’t do enough for yourself,” jewelry made from a coin so it would be “unique, like you”), and comments about my clothing (“are you going for the naughty school girl look today?”). I thought I did everything right. I told him to stop; he didn’t. I told the mayor of Littleton, who unhelpfully offered to host a city-sponsored reception where I could have my husband take care of it. I told the human resources director, who suggested I wasn’t direct enough and then arranged a mediation where we could resolve our “differences.”

I eventually filed a complaint with the EEOC, which led to me being fired that very night. Then I filed a complaint with the office of attorney regulation. I knew from talking to others that I wasn’t the first woman the judge targeted, and I wouldn’t be the last, unless I did something. The city, through their lawyer, confidently proclaimed that if I spoke of it, I would never get another job. They thought they were vindicated. They didn’t care.

Attorney regulation licenses attorneys and is overseen by the Colorado Supreme Court. My case made it through the first few hurdles and was one of less than 10 percent that make it to a trial attorney. I waited for a trial date. It never came. Instead, a year into the process, I received a letter from the director of the office stating that although the judge’s behavior was inappropriate and unprofessional, it didn’t violate the standards of professional conduct. I called the director because I was shocked. He told me that my case was different from cases where judges and attorneys were disbarred after having affairs because we didn’t “have a relationship.” When I suggested it was unfair to give this judge a pass just because I was unwilling he simply stated, “that’s not a very healthy way to look at it.”  In other words, get over it.

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