Denver Judge Violated State Law by Dismissing Deaf Juror, Court Rules

Denver, Colorado – A Denver County Court judge has been found to have violated state law by dismissing a hearing-impaired man from serving as a juror due to his disability, according to a ruling by a Denver District Court judge. The decision came in a lawsuit brought by Spencer Kontnik, an attorney specializing in disability law, against the Denver District Court. Despite the violation, the lawsuit was ultimately dismissed on the grounds that the court cannot be held liable for the judge’s decision and that the judge is protected by judicial immunity.

Judge Judith Smith dismissed Kontnik as a juror in a 2021 case without conducting an interview to determine his capabilities and the accommodations he may have needed to serve as a juror, which is required by state law when considering dismissing someone due to a disability. Kontnik expressed astonishment at the reasons given for his dismissal and stated that it highlighted the ongoing discrimination faced by people with disabilities.

While the lawsuit against Denver County Court was dismissed, Judge Mark Bailey declined to order the court to provide training on equal treatment of people with disabilities. Bailey stated that the court had already taken steps to address the issue, including a letter of apology to Kontnik and relevant training provided to its judges.

Kontnik had arranged for interpretation services during his jury service, but both the Denver District Attorney’s Office and the Office of the Colorado State Public Defender jointly requested his dismissal. They argued that Kontnik’s reliance on interpretation would impede his ability to serve as a fair juror and potentially distract other jurors. However, the court did provide the interpretation services as requested.

Following the incident, Kontnik reached settlements with the district attorney’s office and the public defender’s office, both agreeing to provide training on the Americans with Disabilities Act. However, Denver County Court refused to enter such an agreement, leading Kontnik to file the lawsuit.

Judge Bailey acknowledged that an injunction could advance the goals of the plaintiffs without causing harm to Denver County Court. He noted that the court had already recognized the issue and provided training to its judges. However, no specific order was issued in this regard.

Carolyn Tyler, a spokesperson for Denver County Court, declined to comment on the ruling. Kontnik’s attorneys also did not provide immediate comments.

This case sheds light on the need for equal treatment of people with disabilities within the judicial system. While the court may have taken steps to address the issue, additional measures can be taken to ensure that people with disabilities are not unfairly excluded from participating in the jury selection process.