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Courting Chaos

Hadley Hooper

Gwen Compton Ternes has been living with pain since she fell to the floor in 1987 when the wheels of her office chair came off. The injury to the former office manager led to a series of health problems, and by 1999, three doctors agreed that Ternes required replacement surgery on her right knee.

However, when workers' comp balked at paying for the proposed operation, Ternes hired Denver attorney Doug Phillips to represent her in an appeals hearing before a state administrative law judge. The hearing was held in May 1999. At the time, state law required an ALJ to render a summary order, outlining a decision, within fifteen working days.

June and July came and went without a decision on Ternes's appeal.

By late summer, the Englewood resident had become a virtual prisoner of her pain. As her knee deteriorated, her suffering got so bad that she abandoned a walker in favor of a wheelchair. She couldn't make it to the store, she says, and walking into the next room was torture.

"I couldn't even go in the den and do paperwork because it hurt so bad to bend," says Ternes, now 58. "I was mostly sitting here at the house doing nothing."

Ternes and Phillips began pestering the Colorado Division of Administrative Hearings for a response.

"I called a couple, three times," Ternes says. "I never could speak to the judge. Her paralegal just said she was backlogged. It's kind of like you're stuffed in a corner and forgotten about."

Finally, in late November of '99, six months after the appeals hearing, Ternes received notice of the judge's decision authorizing the surgery.

Her attorney did not hold the tardy decision against the judge. Instead, he says, Ternes's prolonged wait was a symptom of a larger problem. The Division of Administrative Hearings appeared to be in chaos.

Last October, at least twelve of the fifteen administrative law judges who work under presiding judge Marshall Snider signed a letter of no confidence asking that he be demoted. The office, which handles disputes regarding workers' compensation and provides adjudication services for more than fifty other state agencies, was buckling under the weight of gross mismanagement. The judges were overworked, and some of their decisions were months overdue. Records were in disarray, morale was dismal, and staff turnover was atrocious.

"Marshall is an obstacle. If you get rid of Marshall, things will get better," says one of the judges who agreed to be interviewed anonymously because they have been told that speaking to the media is cause for termination.

The problems didn't begin with Snider. Last year, a legislatively mandated audit found $140,000 in "questionable" billings and uncovered the fact that during the first six months of the year, the division had failed to bill $350,000 for services rendered to two agencies. As a result of the findings, division director Dolores Atencio was placed on administrative leave and "allowed" to resign in September. Since that time, the state has appointed a new director to oversee the division, most of the vacant staff positions have been filled, and the decision backlog is ebbing.

From the outside, things are looking up. And though the past months' progress has blunted the intensity of the unhappy judges' feelings, it has done little to change their position on Snider's leadership, because Snider was Atencio's go-to person when she was at the helm. His fellow judges are still angry about what they see as Snider's unquestioning willingness to do whatever it was Atencio asked of him, whether her requests were ethical or not.

The judges are not alone in their desire to see Snider step down; siding with them are two local attorneys who last year launched their own investigation into problems at the division. And their concerns go far beyond issues of Snider's everyday supervisory duties. One is even convinced that Atencio and Snider's juggling of the books (in an attempt to repair the budget) may have bordered on the criminal.

Nevertheless, Snider has continued to enjoy the endorsement of his bosses. His superiors are so pleased with his performance, in fact, that last month he received a promotion to Administrative Law Judge IV, a position that carries with it a salary of up to $92,000 a year. Where some people see only a yes-man, his supporters see a man whose fierce loyalty got him into trouble. Snider "got thrown into the middle of something, and it just turned into shit," says a Denver attorney.

"I think I'm a pretty good judge of character, and I've found [Snider] to be completely straight and completely supportive," says Paul Farley, who was appointed division director in January. "I'm very pleased to have him as my chief judge.

"So far," he adds, "everything I've heard is guilt by association."

Snider concedes that his reputation among his colleagues may have suffered as a result of his role as Atencio's "hatchet man."

"I think the most objective thing I can tell you is that our department conducted an investigation," Snider says. "I can't say what the investigation said -- it was a personnel issue -- but the results of that were that no one found that I did anything wrong. I have not been disciplined [regarding his former budget practices], and I was told that I will not be.

"Mr. Farley and I talked about what occurred during those days [under Atencio's reign], and he's been extremely supportive and let me know I'm his guy for this job."

Snider's fellow judges are not surprised by upper management's loyalty to him. "When Dolores left, they needed someone to clean it up," says a judge. "And what they learned about Marshall was that they knew he would do whatever he was told."


Even Atencio and Snider's staunchest critics agree that the division's budgetary system contributed to the disorder.

When the Division of Administrative Hearings was established in 1976, it was designed to be a break-even proposition. Its budget is based on an outdated system known as the Oregon Plan, which was something of a fad among state governments in the 1970s. It was intended to improve accountability for administrative law services by making the division run similarly to the private sector.

Under the plan, the division bills client agencies an hourly fee for legal services; that money is supposed to cover all of the division's expenses. The Department of Labor, which includes workers' compensation, is, by far, the administrative division's largest client, accounting for about 50 percent of the workload and budget, or about 1,400 cases and $1.5 million annually. (When an individual such as Ternes suffers a work-related injury and is unsatisfied with an insurance company or employer's decision regarding benefits, he has the right to request a formal hearing before the division.)

Every year, the state legislature's Joint Budget Committee, using the prior year's figures, estimates the number of hours of legal services each agency will require. The agencies then receive individual appropriations to buy the division's services.

In theory, this allows the agencies to watch their pennies while at the same time requiring the hearings division to "earn" its funding.

The method works much better in theory than in practice. It essentially requires the legislature to set the budget eighteen months in advance by projecting the number of cases that will come before it from each of the agencies. If there's a spike in the number of cases coming from one agency, the budget is thrown out of whack; division administrators end up having to direct resources to areas where the revenue -- not necessarily the work -- is still available.

The fact that client agencies can request supplemental appropriations from the legislature to cover unexpectedly high legal bills has done little to solve the financial situation. Over the past thirty years, notes division director Farley, most states have abandoned the Oregon Plan. "Even Oregon abandoned it," he says. Colorado may be the lone holdout.

Farley and other administrators were hoping to change the financial process during this legislative session, but those hopes dimmed considerably two weeks ago when a Senate committee killed a bill to reorganize the division and its funding system.

The division managed for years with its unwieldy financial situation, although budget problems arose with consistency.

"There was a previous judge -- Edwin Felter -- who ran the division for fifteen years without those problems," says attorney Phillips. "My understanding is that he would ask for supplemental appropriations. If he [requested] them, he got them, no problem."

It eventually became a problem.

Felter, a distinguished jurist who presently serves as chair of the American Bar Association's National Conference of Administrative Law Judges, was eased out of the chief judge's post in 1998, in large part because of budget overruns. A 1997 audit showed that the division had not collected or recorded more than $520,000 for services provided to the Division of Workers' Compensation since 1992, an average of about $104,000 per year.

Felter remains with the division as a senior judge. He declined a request for an interview.

When Felter stepped down, the state's Department of Personnel, which is over the administrative hearings division, divided up some of his responsibilities.

Dolores Atencio, who was serving as an administrative law judge at the time, assumed the newly created position of division director on November 1, 1998. Her responsibilities included supervising the budget. A month after she took the job, she chose Marshall Snider to be her chief judge. Snider's responsibilities include supervising other judges' legal assistants and law clerks and overseeing training for judges and legal staff. Like the other judges, Snider is a civil-service employee, which means he can be fired for cause.

Initially, members of the bar were satisfied with Atencio's promotion, albeit for reasons that weren't altogether pure.

Atencio had been a judge, but "a terrible one," says Denver attorney Pepe Mendez. "She couldn't write an order. Her orders were illogical. Part of the reason we wanted her to be the director was that we wanted her out of the decision-making arena and where she couldn't do any harm.

"Boy, were we wrong."

Atencio was unavailable for comment.


For some time before Atencio took the helm, insurance companies and respondents' attorneys (those who represent employers in workers' comp claims) had been complaining that the administrative law judges were biased on behalf of injured employees. In their estimation, too many cases were being decided in favor of the claimants.

One of the most vocal complainants was Pinnacol Assurance (also known as the Colorado Compensation Insurance Authority, or CCIA), a self-funded, quasi-public authority that represents 49,000 policyholders throughout the state. As the largest writer of workers' comp insurance in Colorado, Pinnacol wields tremendous political power.

To silence the critics, Atencio ordered a reorganization of the division. At the time, ten of the sixteen judges were permanently assigned to hear workers' comp cases, with the remainder assigned to hear all other types of cases. Judges who had for years been assigned to hear workers' comp cases were rotated out of that arena and assigned to other cases, including those for Health and Human Services, the Division of Regulatory Agencies and others.

Atencio implemented the rotation, according to the audit, "without a clear and defined plan for applying it and for measuring its effectiveness." For the most part, the judges had never received cross-training in other subject matters, and the lack of preparation for the rotation quickly became apparent.

In an audit conducted last year, attorneys and others who worked with the division complained bitterly.

"Because many of the new judges are unfamiliar with the nuances of the workers' compensation law and with medical issues, it seems that orders are running way behind schedule," said one attorney in a survey conducted by the audit committee last fall.

"Most recently, a new ALJ spent more time reading from a script because the ALJ had no idea what process goes on at workers' compensation hearings," wrote another lawyer.

"It appeared that the judges were not familiar with the regulations pertaining to the appeals I've been involved in," a representative for the Human Services department told the audit committee. "In two different hearings, more time was spent educating the judges than in testimony."

By February 2000, Atencio realized that the rotation program was not working. Workers' comp costs were soaring -- the number of hours spent on those cases increased by 19 percent even though the number of cases had declined by more than 30 percent -- and the director of the Division of Workers' Compensation sent a memo to Atencio expressing her concerns. According to the memo, the amount billed to workers' comp so far that fiscal year represented 70 percent of its yearly allocation, with five months still remaining. In addition, Atencio realized that her division hadn't billed Human Services enough to cover expenses.

Atencio decided to temporarily suspend the rotation system and instead assign the judges to hear specific subject matters. Six judges were assigned strictly to attend to Human Services issues. Although that reduced the number of judges who would be hearing workers' comp cases, Atencio did not reduce the number of scheduled hearings. (The division cannot simply refuse to hear cases because, by law, it must schedule workers' comp hearings within a certain time frame; the law does not provide for events in which agencies can't pay for the legal services.)

If Atencio had divided the judges' assignments strictly by workload, a maximum of four judges would have been assigned to Human Services, observers say. But she had a different agenda: She needed to lower the costs for workers' comp and recoup those losses with billings to other agencies. According to the audit report, her requests were clearly inappropriate.

In a memo last fall to Jeff Schutt, Snider's boss and chief of operations for the state Department of Personnel, Snider confirmed that Atencio had asked him to bill agencies for services he had not provided.

Prior to February 2000, Snider wrote in the memo, he had assigned his generic management activities to a non-billable "administrative" category because the work was not always easily identified with a particular agency. But Atencio asked him to change that practice and instead begin billing his administrative work to Human Services for the most part, and also to Regulatory Agencies, but not to the workers' comp division.

"My understanding," Snider wrote to Schutt, "was that I was to bill these two agencies because we had sufficient billing for workers' compensation and needed to capture revenue from these other agencies."

Because of the directive, Snider wrote, "I began billing time spent on anything that was not specifically case-related to Human Services, [to] the categories of training, quality assurance and conferences. I would occasionally bill Regulatory Agencies."

According to last fall's audit report, from January 2000 through June of that year, Snider billed approximately $40,500 (most of it to Human Services) for "training," when in fact his time was spent on other endeavors. The report also notes that auditors were unable to determine if another $49,500 in training sessions billed by the division to client agencies actually involved training.

His fellow judges were irritated by Snider's attitude. "Marshall came in one morning before Dolores left and said how he worked around the house all weekend and billed Human Services," a judge says. "He bragged about it."

Snider, however, is adamant that that never occurred.

"The implication of that statement is that I did no work for anybody and billed Human Services," he says. "That never happened, and I never said such a thing."

"I do work at home some weekends, but I have never -- and I've worked for the state for over 25 years -- done such a thing. In my mind, that is theft of services. That is an outrageous allegation."

Still, his former boss, Atencio, was accused by the audit committee of slashing billings for the workers' comp division and misrepresenting the number of hours judges had worked on those cases. Neither practice, however, is new to Colorado government.

Prior to Atencio's reign, the administrative hearings division routinely failed to collect or charge certain agencies for legal services. And cooking the books was considered little more than budgetary sleight of hand in some state departments.

The state attorney general's office, for example, is funded similarly to the administrative division. In the past, it was sometimes deemed financially prudent to bill one agency for work performed on behalf of another.

Farley, who worked for that office, says the number-juggling was stopped during former AG Gale Norton's administration. Bills are shared among agencies only with prior approval, he says. "You've all got to be on the same page."

Atencio's problem apparently arose because the agencies were unaware of her billing practices. Much of the serious criticism against her stems from this arena.

"If Dolores Atencio and Marshall Snider were working for me and did what they did, they would be fired immediately," says attorney Mendez. "A number of defendants' firms told me the same thing. What they did in the private sector would have been fraud, and I don't understand why it's not fraud in the public sector. And I don't understand why the attorney general has not investigated it."


Atencio's budget directives and the attendant workload change for the judges had a dire effect on the division.

Many of the judges who were assigned to hear Human Services cases would later tell the audit committee that they didn't have enough work to keep them busy. As a consequence, they were creating work to be billed.

The workers' comp judges, meanwhile, were snowed under. Although it's estimated that administrative law judges need one to two days to research and make decisions for every day they spend on the bench, they were holding so many hearings that they could not find the time to write decisions. One judge, for example, was spending 70 percent of her time on the bench.

In addition, it was noted in the audit report, Atencio told the judges who were assigned to Human Services matters that they were not to assist the judges who were assigned to workers' comp cases.

The average number of days from hearing to decision rose from 7.5 working days (in fiscal year 1996) to 13.1 under Atencio. By September 1 of last year, judges' orders were overdue in 110 cases.

Atencio and Snider were directly responsible for the decision backlog, for reasons that went beyond the reallocation of judges' duties.

For many years, it was the practice of the administrative law judges to hear a case, review the materials and then issue a summary order, a brief statement outlining the judge's decision and the basic reasons for making it. If the losing party objected to the finding, the judge would then ask the prevailing side to write a detailed explanation of the judge's reasoning; the judge would accept the document and incorporate it into his own order, which he then released.

During the 2000 legislative session, state representative Jennifer Veiga sponsored a bill in the House requiring ALJs to write detailed findings of fact in workers' comp cases. To compensate, the judges were allowed more time in which to prepare; the decision-making deadline was increased from fifteen working days to thirty calendar days after the hearing.

Both Atencio and Snider testified before the legislature and claimed that the division could accomplish those results. Denver attorney Phillips testified to the contrary. He told lawmakers that the law would create more work for the judges and that the requirement was probably unnecessary.

Phillips proved to be correct, particularly in light of the division's reallocation of the judges' workload.

The bill was effective on passage. By mid-April, it was apparent that the judges were already falling behind.

On April 18, Snider sent a memo to the judges acknowledging that time demands and billing needs were causing difficulties. And, he wrote, "As Delores discussed at a recent staff meeting...we are willing not to consider timeliness of decisions in this year's CPP review." The CPP review is an evaluation for administrative law judges, who receive a salary based on performance. Timeliness of decisions is supposed to count for 10 percent of a judge's overall performance score.

Snider could have allowed the judges to accept proposed orders from parties to a case, a procedure that would have shortened the decision-making process, but he decided against that, even though the law did not specifically ban the practice.

The judges were upset not only by the new requirements and the lack of support staff, but also by the fact that Atencio and Snider came off as heavy-handed.

Atencio "was a miserable person to work for, as was Snider," says Mendez. "He attempted to intimidate the employees and judges."

Atencio went so far as to cancel vacation time for judges who were behind in their decisions.

Members of the support staff were also upset when Atencio disallowed their former practice of designing flex-time shifts. Others, says a judge, were frustrated with backlogs and a feeling that the managers just didn't care.

"Obviously, the changes I've made as a result of the management review have left a numbers of employees unhappy, including some of the judges," Atencio conceded at an August 1999 legislative committee meeting.

At the time, Atencio had been in charge just nine months, but 25 percent of the support staff had resigned during that time. A year later, the figure would stand at 81 percent. Many of those people had been with the division for a number of years and had extensive knowledge of their roles and responsibilities.

"I was not here then," says Farley, "but from what I understand, it seemed like a very unhappy place to work. There wasn't as good communication between management and employees as I would like to have."

The dearth of experienced administrative workers was exacerbated. According to last year's audit report, management was extremely slow to fill the vacant positions, taking an average of thirteen months to fill each vacancy. It was later explained that the administrators hoped to leave the positions open for a time to reduce the division's costs.

Even when the supervisors did fill a position, they did not provide adequate training for the new hire. The record-keeping became sloppy. Numerous lawyers complained of showing up for scheduled hearings, witnesses in tow, only to discover that the staff could find no record that the hearing was slated for that day. Because they were without secretaries, judges were forced to type their own orders and even type out the envelopes for documents to be sent out.

In an attempt to smooth relations with the bar association, Atencio continued to meet with a focus group (which Felter had established) made up of attorneys who work on workers' comp cases. Their job, as they saw it, was to identify problems and offer suggestions to improve the division.

Their job, as they believe Atencio saw it, was to be "cheerleaders" for the division and for decisions she and Snider made.

Mendez and Phillips were among the members of the group, some of whom began referring to it as "The Hocus-Pocus Focus Group." Atencio often clashed with focus-group members when they failed to agree with her ideas.

"In June of last year," Phillips says, "Dolores announced she had balanced the budget. She said it was the first time in recent memory that that had happened. I got a good chuckle out of that, because there is no way it could be done, because you can't determine the number of cases the judges will get each year."

Atencio didn't take kindly to his reaction. Nor was she pleased when Mendez began writing letters of complaint about her to the governor and to her boss, state personnel director Larry Trujillo. She berated attorney and focus-group member Tom Kanan, who criticized her plan to reorganize the division.

Kanan says Atencio kicked him and Phillips out of the group. Mendez resigned. "As a leader of men and women," says Kanan, Atencio "left a lot to be desired." And though he believes Snider is "a nice guy" thrown into a political situation for which he was unprepared, Kanan faults the judge for consistently backing Atencio's plans, no matter how wrongheaded they might have been.

"He was her minion," Kanan says of Snider's relationship with Atencio. "He was her advocate. It was like whoever it was who was in charge of the 'Charge of the Light Brigade,' knowing they'd blundered and leading the charge anyway."


By the end of last summer, members of the state bar association's workers' comp section -- which includes about 250 attorneys -- had had it with the problems.

Mendez and Phillips had become so frustrated with the process and suspicious about Atencio's billing practices that they began an investigation of their own. They filed dozens of requests under the state's open-records act, eventually accumulating a three-foot-high pile of documents about the division.

On August 30, a representative of the state bar association's executive board for the workers' compensation section addressed a letter of formal complaint to Trujillo under the heading "Crisis at the Division of Administrative Hearings."

Their concerns centered on scheduling problems, late orders, staff turnover, record-keeping and communication. Regarding the communication issue, the letter stated: "Our board has attempted to address those and other issues with the Division of Administrative Hearings. We have, in the past, enjoyed a good working relationship...Of late, it has been difficult to openly discuss issues and deal with the Division of Administrative Hearings. The division...has been confrontational toward those who have disagreed with or criticized its positions."

The letter closed with an offer to assist in solving problems and a willingness, if requested, to schedule an emergency meeting of the board to address concerns with Trujillo.

By then, however, a state audit of the division was already in full swing. The state is required by law to perform an audit of the judges who hear workers' comp cases, and that section of the division was due for a review, says legislative auditor Michelle Colin. But the auditor's office expanded the scope of the 2000 evaluation, in part because of complaints and partly because the rotation process made it more difficult to separate out the judges who heard only workers' comp cases.

The audit began in May. By late summer, the mismanagement problems were clear. After discovering what they perceived to be questionable billings, the auditors informed Trujillo, who launched an internal investigation. In August, Atencio was placed on administrative leave. In September she was allowed to resign, two months before the audit report was even issued, and took with her a state-approved severance package of $65,727.

Atencio's departure was a relief to the bar association and to the administrative law judges.

"As soon as she was gone, a lot of the problems were resolved, because the administrative law judges took it upon themselves to solve them," says Phillips. "An example is that while she was still there, attorneys were not allowed to make phone calls to cancel hearings; we had to triple the paperwork. The judges have tried to simplify things. That has aided tremendously. In addition, they have put the most experienced administrative law judges back on the docket, and they are assisting the less-experienced judges."

But Phillips had his problems with Snider. Although Phillips had received hundreds of division documents through the Open Records Act, he felt that Snider was deliberately holding back some information. In October, he sent a letter to Attorney General Ken Salazar, asking him to open an investigation of a possible Opens Record Act violation by Snider. (Salazar declined.)

The judges weren't happy with Snider, either.

"In spite of the absence of the tyrant, the tyranny continued," a judge notes. Even with Atencio gone, Snider continued to implement the policies she had put in place.

"Initially," says a judge, "we didn't want to blame Marshall, because we felt he had been a victim, as had we. But we also felt we couldn't continue under tyranny."

The judges sat tight for a couple months but became restless as it appeared that state administrators had no one in mind to replace Atencio.

"The longer it took to find a director, the more we and the staff began to understand that they had no one they felt they could put in that position," the judge says. "And when there is a dearth of experience, they'll put someone in who claims to have experience. We saw it coming.

"To head off the possibility that Marshall might be appointed director, we took a vote and decided we needed to write a letter of no confidence. We felt that if Marshall could be demoted back to being a judge -- and he was an excellent judge -- we could start again in terms of management."

On October 4, at least twelve of the sitting judges signed a letter addressed to Schutt, who was serving as interim director.

While stating that the letter was not intended to disparage Snider, the judges asked that someone else be appointed to attend to the division's day-to-day operations. "We believe an immediate change in leadership at the ALJ level is essential to the efficient and effective running of the Division," the judges wrote.

"We also believe that a change in leadership within our Division will cease most, if not all, of the incessant open-records requests that eat away at our writing time."

In requesting that Snider be demoted, says a judge, "all we wanted was someone who understood the balance between writing and being on the bench, between fairness and political reality, between claimants and respondents. All we wanted is what is fair. All we wanted was what we were expected to give every day.

"Marshall did not provide that in Dolores's absence."

Schutt, who referred all questions to Farley, denied the judges' request. He told them that he trusted Snider and that he had no intention of replacing him.

Though Schutt threw his support behind Snider, the legislative audit committee report, which was released in November, was blunt in its assessment of the chief judge.

"We believe the Presiding Judge could have helped to manage and reduce this [decision] backlog," the report said. "According to the Presiding Judge, he began actively monitoring the timeliness of the ALJ's decisions during the last few months of Fiscal Year 2000. We believe, however, that he should have begun monitoring timeliness when the workload changes were made. This could have prevented the backlog in cases waiting for a decision to be issued. In addition, the Presiding Judge should have spent less time on division-wide administrative tasks and more time on the direct supervision of the ALJs and on hearing cases."

On January 8, Paul Farley took over duties as director of the division. He was appointed to the position by Larry Trujillo.

His appointment was greeted with optimism by the bar and by the judges he is to oversee. They applauded his action to immediately suspend the rotation of judges. He has worked with the legislature to come up with budgeting solutions.

About the only thing they disagree with him on is that they'd still like to see Snider demoted.

Farley says that when he started, he engaged in a "candid" discussion with Schutt regarding Snider's situation.

Farley says Schutt told him that Snider had been in a "terribly awkward and unenviable situation"; he had to carry out the directives of his boss, even if he disagreed with them. He was not involved in any impropriety.

"I had no reason to second-guess what Mr. Schutt said," Farley continues. "No one has come to me and said, 'I have no confidence in [Snider] anymore.' My experience with him is that he's an absolute team player, very candid, very supportive. He gives me answers I don't always want to hear. I have complete confidence in him.

"There may be a judge or two out there with lingering issues, but they haven't been broadcasting it. On the whole, I think they're doing pretty well."

Some of the judges do say Snider has relaxed somewhat now that Atencio has gone. "He's not so aggressive and defensive," says one. The judge, however, credits Farley with the positive changes that have occurred in the division over the past few months.

That is the opinion of other judges as well. Although the decision backlog is narrowing -- and Farley projects it will be eliminated by the end of April -- one judge says it is being accomplished at a cost. Snider is not seeing to it that the judges get enough time to write and research the decisions.

"Marshall is still imposing ridiculous demands with knowledge of the personnel impacts," the judge says.

If the judges feel unable to bring themselves to complain directly to Farley, it isn't necessarily because they are happy, the judge says. Their silence is the result of being government employees, many of whom are close to retirement.

"Doug Phillips and Pepe can afford to do that," the judge says. "Pepe won't lose a penny over this."

So some of the judges are content to allow Mendez and Phillips to do what they feel they cannot -- fight for what they believe is fair.

"Because of the things he did for Dolores, he should be removed," Phillips says of Snider. "A person in his position has to have the respect of the people he supervises, and he has to have their support, and the things he did caused him to have neither of those, in my opinion."

Snider says he realizes that anything he says ultimately will sound defensive and self-serving, so he chooses his words carefully. Asked if he has any regrets about his actions under Atencio, Snider considers the question for a moment before answering. "You can always second-guess yourself. I have very high standards for myself, and I'm always second-guessing myself about more significant things than what happened last summer. I try to make the best decisions I can and learn from my mistakes," he says.

His former boss, Atencio, who is now in private practice, will return to the public spotlight as a guest speaker at the Colorado Women's Bar Association meeting May 20. She will serve on a panel titled "How Do We Empower Each Other?"

And Gwen Ternes, who suffered from the division's bureaucratic delays, says she is "doing very well now."

Her knee-replacement surgery, which was performed within two weeks of the ALJ's decision, went well, she says. She no longer needs a walker to get around, although her spinal injuries will likely keep her grounded for a long time. She's now getting by with the help of a workers' comp check of $451 that comes every other week.

But, Ternes says, she probably "will never work again."