Colorado Judicial Department ran internal ruse to keep lid on $2.5 million contract, sources say – The Denver Post
Colorado Judicial Department officials were so intent on keeping the lid on a $2.5 million contract going to its former chief of staff in early 2019 that they ran an internal ruse about how a retiring judge was actually the targeted recipient, according to several people close to the events.
The department awarded Mindy Masias the five-year contract for judicial training in June 2019, allegedly to avoid a sexual discrimination lawsuit in which she threatened to reveal misconduct by several male judges and department officials, The Denver Post has reported. Masias at the time faced firing because of financial irregularities but instead had been on personal medical leave for months. The contract was canceled amid the newspaper’s investigation into the deal.
The contract and the misconduct allegations are at the center of three investigations.
The reason for the secrecy, according to interviews, was to guarantee that high-level financial officers in the department who strongly would have objected to Masias getting the lucrative deal were not alerted and could not scuttle the deal.
Moreover, the department intentionally waited to sign the contract until two key Masias critics had left the department — one through a reorganization and the other through retirement, three people with knowledge of the contract told The Post.
The details behind how department officials manipulated the procurement process to ensure the contract was awarded to Masias are only now emerging as investigators dig into allegations that it was a quid-pro-quo deal to silence the potential lawsuit. People familiar with the process would discuss the details with The Post only if their names were not revealed because they are not authorized to disclose them publicly and would face departmental discipline.
The critics the department officials were trying to avoid — chief financial officer David Kribs and controller Myra Dukes — pressured then-Chief Justice Nathan “Ben” Coats and then-state court administrator Christopher Ryan in November 2018 to dismiss Masias rather than suspend her over concerns about reimbursement requests she had made months earlier.
Instead, Ryan met in January 2019 with Coats, counsel to the chief justice Andrew Rottman, and then-human resources director Eric Brown, and they decided Masias would get the training contract, Ryan has told The Post.
The department had already decided to revamp its judicial training and hire someone with experience working with a court system and judges. Masias’s 23-year tenure with the department and extensive knowledge in judicial training would have been a natural fit. The contract was to be handled by the department’s human resources division, which Masias once headed with Brown as her deputy.
Brown wanted to give Masias the contract outright, Ryan said, but Ryan insisted it go through a public bidding process. Brown’s original draft of the qualifications necessary for a bidder to receive the contract was so narrowly written, Ryan said, that few companies could qualify.
Ryan said he sat with the department’s chief contract procurement officer, John Kane, and the department’s legal counsel, Terri Morrison, to edit the proposal and make its qualifications less restrictive with the hope that at least one public bid would be received.
“It couldn’t be written too tightly so that no one would apply,” Ryan said. “We definitely had (the contract) tailored for what we were looking for, but not so much that no one would reply.”
More than 400 companies were matched to the contract, according to the state’s procurement system, and nearly two dozen businesses downloaded information about it.
When the proposal went public in January 2019, the department withheld its own normal outreach to businesses to generate bids, according to interviews.
“Kane (the procurement officer) told me he had been approached by Brown and was told not to tell anyone, including me, that the idea was they had someone in mind for the leadership training contract and told him it was a retiring judge,” Kribs told The Post. “It was initially to be so restrictive that no one would apply and this judge could get it.”
There would be no bid from the judge because he was uncomfortable making one, Kribs said he was told. The hope was to disqualify any bidders and ensure the retiring judge would then gain the contract as a solesource provider, Kribs said.
Ryan said he was unaware of the retiring judge plan but heard of it later from Kane. It’s unclear if Coats was aware of the plan, and he has refused any public comment.
Kane has told The Post he would cooperate with investigators. But he has offered no additional comments and did not respond to a request for an interview.
Kribs said he approached Morrison (the legal counsel) to discuss what Kane had told him, still unaware that Masias was the intended recipient.
“I told her what I was hearing and that such a narrow approach wasn’t defensible, that it would open us up to appeals or lawsuit by any company that bid,” Kribs said. “I got a look from her, and she said we’re not supposed to talk about this. They already knew what they were up to at that point.”
In the end, no company submitted a bid. Several companies have told The Post they felt the criteria were too narrowly focused for them to qualify.
In the meantime, Masias had filed a reservation for a company name — The Leadership Practice — with the Colorado secretary of state’s office on Jan. 2, 2019, records show, but she didn’t formally create the company until March 14, 2019, the day before she resigned from the department. She did not bid on the contract.
The day after Masias officially resigned, Brown submitted a formal request to Ryan for a sole-source contract to be awarded to Masias, The Post has reported.
In an unrelated move, Kribs left the department around the same time because of an internal reorganization.
Weeks passed before the plot would come to light. A department attorney tasked with drafting the paperwork noticed the contract was really being awarded to Masias. The attorney alerted Kane, who went to Dukes, the controller.
“John (Kane) comes in to tell me what was really happening,” Dukes said in a telephone interview, noting her office adjoined Kane’s. “We couldn’t say anything because we weren’t supposed to know.” Dukes said she waited to see the paperwork come through the normal departmental routing process for her signature, but she never saw any.
That’s because there wasn’t any for anyone to see. With Kribs gone, officials waited for Dukes to retire, Ryan said, before the deal was sealed.
Ryan signed the contract with Masias on June 3, 2019, three days after Dukes left, according to a copy of the document.
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