The Hush-Hush World of Attorney-Attorney Privilege

News that the state's Attorney Regulation Counsel won't be filing a formal complaint against Carol Chambers, the big-stick district attorney for the 18th Judicial District, dribbled out in the backhand fashion typical of the ARC's highly confidential dealings with Colorado's wayward lawyers.

Head counsel John Gleason said he couldn't release the letter detailing his decision not to pursue the case against Chambers, who'd sent e-mails to Arapahoe County's chief judge that some deemed as "veiled threats" to jam up the docket if certain judges didn't change their attitude toward her staff. Gleason says Chambers could release the letter, but Chambers told reporters she's not allowed to do so under the confidentiality rules of the disciplinary process.

Chambers has already been censured for butting into a civil case on behalf of an Englewood official, making odd, intimidating phone calls to a collection attorney who was hassling the official. She's also alienated judges and opposing attorneys in Arapahoe with her brusque criticisms of them as well as her costly, overkill tactics in pursuing habitual criminal charges against chronic but low-level offenders, as we reported here a few months ago. Her e-mail complaints about judges seem to have revolved around Judge Valeria Spencer, a former prosecutor herself. (Spencer happened to be on the bench for one of the cases we reported, in which Chambers' staff tried, and failed, to send a parolee away for sixteen years for walking away from a halfway house.) But this latest tiff wouldn't have become public at all if some tipped-off reporters hadn't poked around the e-mails flying between her office and the judiciary, and we may never know Gleason's reasoning for not taking the case further.

The fact is that the state's attorney discipline process is shrouded in more mystery than a Dionysian cult. Of the 5,000 complaints the ARC receives each year, less than 10 percent are considered worthy of actual investigation, and only a small fraction of those cases lead to a public hearing, such as the unusual Chambers censure. The rest are settled behind closed doors because — well, because lawyers like it that way. Even Gleason admits that the system is ridiculously secretive; he recently asked the Colorado Supreme Court to consider changes to the process. But don't expect a change any time soon.

Not as long as the people controlling the process are all bellying up to the same bar association. – Alan Prendergast

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun