Civil Rights & Criminal Law
Hate Crimes Education Program
Since 1993, Colorado Lawyers Committee volunteers have presented an educational program on Colorado’s Hate/Bias-Motivated Crimes Statute. Using a fictional trial format, the program empowers student participants to explore how they can prevent the severe harm caused by hateful slurs and biased actions. At the conclusion of the trial, the students divide into small groups and act as jurors to discuss the issues presented and, with the assistance of an adult facilitator, reach a verdict. The students become very engaged in discussing diversity in their community, and the value of preventing the spread of racial slurs and hateful actions.
TAYLOR RANCH Litigation
The Taylor Ranch litigation (Lobato v. Taylor) involves the right of landowners in the San Luis Valley to access a 77,500-acre mountainous parcel known as the Taylor Ranch. This right was created in the mid-1800’s when settlers on the Sangre de Cristo Land Grant, then a part of Mexico, were promised access to the mountainous regions near their homes for uses necessary for their survival. More than 100 years later, Jack Taylor purchased and fenced off the land.
The Lawyers Committee has been active in this litigation for the past 20 years and has successfully obtained rights for landowners entitled to access the property (after a 2003 decision by the Colorado Supreme Court upheld the rights of plaintiff property owners). To date, the District Court has examined title to thousands of parcels of land and found that all but a few parcels are entitled to access Taylor Ranch.
In 2016, the team successfully challenged an attempt by the owners of Taylor Ranch to cut off yet-to-be-identified landowners’ rights through notice by publication and persuaded the Court to certify its prior rulings as final, while leaving the case open for any future landowners to make access claims. In 2018, the ranch owner filed an appeal (the third time the case was before the Colorado Court of Appeals). The Court issued a 90-page opinion rejecting the ranch owner’s efforts to limit the rights of the landowners and remanded the case back to the trial court to finish identifying landowners with rights.
ELECTION TASK FORCE
The goal of the Election Task Force is to monitor the election process and work to ensure access to the polls in Colorado’s elections. This bipartisan coalition of volunteers works closely with the Colorado Secretary of State, the Republican and Democratic parties, the specialty bar associations, and other key constituencies to assure collaborative solutions to election issues and changes to the law.
Nonpartisan ELECTION CALL CENTER
At the Nonpartisan Election Call Center, volunteers answer phone calls from Colorado voters on the 866-OUR-VOTE hotline by providing voter information, documenting problems they encounter when voting, and working with partners and volunteers on the ground to identify and remove barriers to voting. Typical questions include, “Has my ballot been received?” “Where do I register?” and “Where can I drop off my ballot?”
The Call Center, which is held every two years, is sponsored by Just Vote! Colorado Election Protection, a nonpartisan voter assistance project and is not affiliated with or promoting any party, candidate or ballot issue. Just Vote is a coalition of several organizations: the Colorado Lawyers Committee, Colorado Common Cause, Mi Familia Vota, Disability Law Colorado, and the League of Women Voters of Colorado.
The next Election Call Center will be held in November 2020.
JAIL WAIT Litigation
For 11 years, Colorado Lawyers Committee volunteers have been litigating against the Colorado Department of Human Services. The suit was filed on behalf of thousands of individuals with mental illness and developmental disabilities who have waited or are waiting in Colorado jails for unconscionable amounts of time to be evaluated for competency to proceed to hearing/trial or to receive court ordered competency restoration. These individuals cannot proceed with defending the criminal accusations against them, until they are evaluated and/or receive treatment so they can participate in their criminal cases. The result is they end up being warehoused in jails, deteriorating, without care, and many are held in jail far longer than any sentence would have been imposed on them (if any). The Colorado Department of Human Services is required to provide these services in a timely manner per Colorado Law and the United States Constitution.
In July 2016, the plaintiffs reached a (second) settlement requiring the State to evaluate individuals for competency held in the county jails within 30 days of receipt of the court order and essential police reports, and if found incompetent, to admit the patients for restoration treatment within 28 days of receipt of the order. Since June 2017, the State has been out of compliance with the timeframes, and more than a thousand people have waited (and are still waiting) in jails as much as six months to receive court-ordered restoration treatment.
In June 2018, the plaintiffs filed a motion in federal court to re-open the settlement agreement. In November 2018, the Court found the State in breach of the agreement and out of compliance since June 2017. As one remedy for the breach, the Court appointed a Special Master in December 2018 to oversee the State’s plan for compliance and provide the Court and parties with a comprehensive plan for long-term compliance. Plaintiffs sent the State 11 non-negotiable conditions to cease litigation and attempt to mediate. The parties are headed to mediation. If a Consent Decree is not signed by the parties by mid-March 2019, the case will proceed to hearing in June 2019.
CIVIL RIGHTS & CRIMINAL LAW HISTORICAL HIGHLIGHTS
CLC supports one of the lawsuits (McDaniel-Miccio v. Colorado) which successfully challenged Colorado’s constitutional ban on gay marriage.
In Branson v. City & County of Denver, volunteer lawyers challenge the Fireman’s Pension Fund’s denial of pension rights to widows of firefighters whose marriages began after retirement. The Colorado Supreme Court declares the policy unconstitutional.
Martinez v. Denver Boys Club filed to challenge Denver Boys Club refusal to admit Danette Martinez after the Denver Girls Club closed. Pending appeal of a ruling favorable to Danette, the Boys Club decides to admit girls and renames the club the “Boys and Girls Clubs of Metro Denver.”
The Hate Violence Task Force is created to educate the community about the prevalence of crimes based on race, ethnicity, gender, religious practice, and sexual orientation. Volunteers present fictional trials at schools with students serving as jurors. The presentations continue today throughout Colorado.
CLC joins Lobato v. Taylor, originally filed in 1981 to secure the rights of property owners in the San Luis Valley to exercise traditional use rights to graze livestock and collect wood and timber on 77,500 acres known as “Taylor Ranch.” After the Colorado Supreme Court remands the case for a determination of which landowners are entitled to access the property (most were found eligible), the case is now on appeal at the Colorado Court of Appeals for the third time.
The CLC Sixth Amendment Task Force files suit to challenge the constitutionality of a Colorado statute that denies a lawyer to individuals charged with a misdemeanor until after they meet with the prosecutor. The lawsuit is voluntarily dismissed when the legislature repeals the statute and allocates $15 million for attorneys for individuals charged with misdemeanor.
CLC Sentencing Reform Task Force publishes study that recommends the establishment of a Sentencing Commission to address the negative fiscal impact of current sentencing practices. The following year, HB 1358 establishes the Colorado Criminal and Juvenile Justice Commission.
CLC creates the Colorado Innocence Project, inspired by similar projects around the country designed to provide legal representation for prisoners whose innocence can be established by scientific or other evidence. In 2010, leadership of the project transitions from the CLC to the University of Colorado School of Law.
CLC joins with several other service organizations to form JAWS (the Coalition for Justice for Abused Women) to advocate for improved treatment of domestic violence victims by police and prosecutors. Court action and subsequent negotiations result in policy changes within the police department, the district and city attorney’s offices, and Denver County Court. Project Safeguard is established to monitor these changes and assist the city in responding more effectively to incidents of domestic violence.
Volunteers represent inmates challenging the constitutionality of conditions at the Jefferson County Jail (Baker v. Bray). The lawsuit was successfully settled by the agreement of the defendants to construct a new and constitutionally adequate facility.
CLC volunteers begin to explore possible consequences if Colorado ever enacts more restrictive voting ID requirements (as some other states have done) — would such restrictions disenfranchise significant numbers of individuals (mostly poor and elderly) who are unable to obtain a state-issued ID.
CLC co-hosts the Colorado/New Mexico hearing of the National Commission on Voting Rights. One of 25 scheduled throughout the country, the hearing focuses on voting discrimination and election administration in Colorado and New Mexico.
The Election Task Force files an amicus brief (In Re Jones v. Samora) urging the Colorado Supreme Court to reinstate the results of a recall election in Center, Colorado. In January 2014, the Colorado Supreme Court issues a unanimous ruling reinstating the results of the recall election.
CLC begins participation in the Nonpartisan Election Call Center (every two years) where volunteers answer voter questions about access to the polls.
The CLC Election Task Force is created (and continues to this day) to provide nonpartisan advocacy to maximize the right of all Colorado citizens to vote, without regard to race, physical disability or income.
CLC files Sanchez v. State of Colorado to protect rights of Hispanic residents under the Voting Rights Act. The lawsuit results in the redistricting of Southern Colorado to prevent the continued dilution of Hispanic representation.