Paper in typewriter shows '#MeToo' written on page after latest allegations of misconduct

The goings-on behind the bench in Adams County have gotten nasty with allegations of misconduct flying fast and loose in Brighton. Now more than a year into the drama, events have devolved into a series of troubling allegations, blanket denials, counter allegations and official complaints with no resolution in sight.

Back in September of 2019 District Judge Sharon Holbrook sent a 10-page email to the Colorado Judicial Department alleging several of her fellow judges were behaving like petulant teenagers in that “retaliation, fraud, harassment, sexual harassment, and threatening behavior” had become the norm among what should be our most sober and well-behaved civil servants.

She also claimed that the behavior had been going on since at least 2017, involved the Chief Judge among others, and that previous complaints had gone ignored or generated even more examples of the alleged inappropriate behavior.

According to Judge Holbrook, after she and two other female judges filed a complaint alleging less than honorable behavior by one of their fellow judges, investigators warned them that their safety could be in danger. She also alleges that, after the complaint was filed, male judges began referring to her and the two other female judges in less than flattering, even sexist, terms.

Holbrook made other allegations in her email to the Judicial Department, including a claim that a laptop apparently shared by court staff members contained pornographic images, and that exit interviews with various court employees corroborate at least some of her claims that the Adams County District Court had become a hotbed of misbehavior.

Former Chief Judge Murphy Accused of Misconduct

As we mentioned the saga currently playing out in the 17th district dates back to 2017. At that time, Judge Holbrook approached then Chief Judge Patrick Murphy with allegations of misconduct against a male judge. Holbrook claims she was not alone in complaining to Murphy about the behavior of the male judge, who remains unidentified to this day.

She alleges that Murphy ignored these complaints and that things got so bad that a female magistrate came to her in tears one day after allegedly being harassed by the male judge. It was only then, in March of 2018, that she and the two other female judges decided to file their formal complaint against that unnamed judge.

That complaint included, among other things, charges of inappropriate behavior by the male judge toward female interns and the misuse of court scheduling calendars. Holbrook alleges that once that formal complaint was filed, Murphy and other male judges set out to retaliate against her and were (and continue to be) openly hostile toward her.

That hostile atmosphere allegedly included regular visits from Murphy to Holbrook’s office where he, again allegedly, tried to intimidate her. It got so bad, Holbrook contends, that at one point she was reduced to tears by Murphy and begged him to leave her alone. Murphy vehemently denies these allegations and is on the record saying he never retaliated against anyone.

New Chief Judge Accused of Misconduct

The allegations Judge Holbrook spelled out in her email to the Colorado Judicial Department were not only leveled at her male counterparts, including former Chief Judge Patrick Murphy. She also alleged that current district Chief Judge Emily Anderson engaged in hostile behavior toward her and that it was a particular interaction between her and Anderson that took place last summer that forced her hand and prompted the lengthy email complaint.

According to Judge Holbrook, the alleged inappropriate interaction with Chief Judge Anderson was the result of the Chief Judge wanting to discuss an undisclosed matter and Holbrook requesting they do so at another time. In response, Holbrook alleges the Chief Judge called her an inappropriate name and made an aggressive gesture toward her.

According to Holbrook, however, that was not the end of it. She says that after the initial encounter she returned to her office and shortly thereafter Chief Judge Anderson showed up. Holbrook alleges Anderson knocked on the door, and when Holbrook opened it a bit to see who was there, Anderson wedged her foot in the door in an attempt to force her way in.

Allegations Denied

Chief Judge Anderson has not taken kindly to being presented in such a light by Judge Holbrook. In response, she essentially called Holbrook a liar, saying Holbrook’s depiction of the encounter is “untrue” and that nothing Holbrook alleges regarding the encounter actually occurred.

She also issued a statement in which she expressed her commitment to fostering an inclusive atmosphere in the 17th District, citing her record of helping women and members of minority communities find a place in the legal profession. She also expressed dismay at Holbrook’s allegations, after recounting her efforts to support Holbrook’s career.

The State of Affairs at the 17th District Court

Some of the allegations leveled by Judge Holbrook seem flimsy at best, but others are certainly cause for concern. For her part, Holbrook has continually expressed frustration at the level of secrecy surrounding complaints against judges, but that situation is not likely to change any time soon. In fact, perhaps in response to the current drama playing out in Adams County, the Judicial Department circulated a memo in October directing all judge against judge complaints to be filed directly with the Colorado Commission on Judicial Discipline. And that August body conducts all their inquiries in secret and rarely publicizes their decisions.