Denver lawyer excluded from jury service as a result of he’s deaf

Denver lawyer excluded from jury service as a result of he’s deaf

A Denver legal professional who focuses on incapacity discrimination litigation, has discovered himself within the sneakers of the very folks he represents.

Spencer Kontnik is suing the Denver County Courtroom for excluding him from jury service as a result of he’s deaf.

The lawsuit, filed Friday in Denver District Courtroom, alleges discrimination towards a certified juror with a incapacity and claims the court docket violated the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act, which states folks with disabilities should not be excluded from collaborating in providers, applications or actions offered by a public entity or state company. A court docket is a public entity.

Kontnik and the Colorado Cross-Incapacity Coalition, a nonprofit advocating for incapacity rights statewide, are asking the Denver County Courtroom to cease violating the legislation and guarantee potential jurors with disabilities don’t expertise discrimination by implementing new insurance policies.

“People with disabilities needs to be valued and below Colorado legislation, frankly, do have the precise to be handled the identical as others,” Kontnik mentioned by cellphone Monday afternoon.

Kontnik, an legal professional who focuses on representing people who find themselves deaf and onerous of listening to in incapacity civil rights circumstances, obtained a summons to seem for jury responsibility on the Lindsey-Flanigan Courthouse for a case in Denver County Courtroom on July 15, 2021. 

Kontnik — who makes use of a cochlear implant, listening to aids and different courtroom lodging for his listening to impairment — made preparations with the Denver Workplace of Signal Language Companies to have a translation interpreter present real-time captioning providers throughout jury choice. 

When he arrived for jury choice, Kontnik was desirous to study in regards to the court docket course of from the opposite aspect. He’s been a lawyer for years and has practiced in entrance of juries, however has by no means served as a juror.

However earlier than Kontnik entered the courtroom, the interpretation interpreter met him in a hallway and defined that the decide had already excluded him from jury service, within the upcoming felony trial. Choose Judith A. Smith mentioned in court docket information that attorneys had reached an settlement to exclude Kontnik from serving as a juror as a result of it “could be powerful for him,” and the decide agreed with the choice. A protection legal professional additionally allegedly mentioned they believed Kontnik’s participation with translation providers would “decelerate” the one-day trial that officers had been making an attempt to complete as shortly as doable, in keeping with a duplicate of the lawsuit.

The decide additionally claimed an alternate juror could be required in case there have been points with interpretation or with Kontnik’s skill to serve. Kontnik’s attorneys say there was no want for an alternate juror, and no cause why Kontnik’s jury service would have been “powerful for him.”

Kontnik makes use of real-time interpreters within the courtroom often, with none delays, the lawsuit states.

Spencer Kontnik, a Denver legal professional who focuses on incapacity discrimination litigation, is suing Denver County Courtroom for excluding him as a juror due to his incapacity.

Denver County Courtroom guidelines require a decide to interview potential jurors earlier than evaluating their qualification to serve. Nonetheless, Choose Smith didn’t talk with Kontnik earlier than he was dismissed, the lawsuit says.

“Though I’m a assured particular person, it was very embarrassing to be singled out based mostly on my incapacity in entrance of 20-30 different potential jurors,” Kontnik mentioned in a letter he just lately wrote to metropolis leaders. “I’d have understood if I had been stricken from a jury as a result of I’m an legal professional, or as a result of one of many events perceived bias, nevertheless it was disturbing to be stricken due to my incapacity.”

The Colorado Municipal Courtroom Guidelines of Process, which a court docket should comply with when deciding on a jury, specifies that no juror is permitted to be challenged or excused, until the court docket determines the juror is unqualified to serve for causes specified below legislation, comparable to if the juror is aware of the defendant or if the juror is in a dispute with the defendant.

“There was nothing about Mr. Kontnik’s incapacity or the usage of (an) interpreter that may have disqualified him from the jury choice course of,” the lawsuit states.

Kontnik mentioned some might view jury responsibility as a burden, however he and others who confirmed up that day to serve in July, had felt it was a privilege. 

“I took day out of my day to guarantee that I used to be there and ready to do my civic responsibility to be a jury member,” he mentioned. “And I feel the courts and town ought to guarantee that if people with disabilities are going to need to take day out of their day to attend jury service, similar to everybody else, they need to have an equal alternative to take a seat on a jury and fulfill their civic responsibility.”

The Denver County Courtroom didn’t reply to 2 requests for touch upon Monday.

When a possible juror is dismissed, the court docket isn’t required to specify why, and so it turns into “nearly unimaginable” to know in the event that they had been excluded due to their incapacity, mentioned Kevin Williams, Kontnik’s legal professional and civil rights authorized program director for Colorado Cross-Incapacity Coalition.

“It’s completely unbelievable and astounding that 32 years after the passage of the Individuals with Disabilities Act {that a} court docket … and attorneys mentioned, this individual, whom they’ve by no means met, simply due to his incapacity can’t serve on a jury,” Williams mentioned.

The Individuals with Disabilities Act additionally prohibits courts from excluding any individual with a incapacity from participation in jury service merely due to their incapacity standing.

After the incident, Kontnik mentioned he reached out to the nationwide Deaf and Onerous of Listening to Bar Affiliation to ask if others had skilled an analogous incident. About half a dozen folks responded, at the very least one from Colorado, and mentioned they’ve skilled one thing comparable. 

Spencer Kontnik, a Denver legal professional who focuses on incapacity discrimination litigation, is suing Denver County Courtroom for excluding him as a juror as a result of he’s deaf. The lawsuit asks the Denver County Courtroom to cease violating the legislation and guarantee potential jurors with disabilities don’t expertise discrimination by implementing new insurance policies.

Kontnik additionally wrote a letter to metropolis leaders and defined that dropping all of his listening to at age 6 was traumatic. Whereas rising up, he was excluded from many actions that he had beforehand loved by lecturers, coaches and different youngsters, he mentioned within the letter.

“Fortunately for me, I had the assist of my household,” Kontnik wrote. “My household didn’t place limitations on me, and I discovered from a younger age find out how to get up for myself. Nonetheless, my listening to has all the time been a delicate problem.”

Kontnik wrote letters asking attorneys to vary their conduct towards different potential jurors with disabilities, earlier than submitting the lawsuit. Quickly after, he filed costs of discrimination towards the district legal professional’s workplace, the general public defender’s workplace, and the Denver County Courtroom alleging discrimination.

Throughout the Colorado Civil Rights Division proceedings, Kontnik was capable of negotiate settlement agreements with the Denver District Legal professional’s Workplace and the Colorado Workplace of the State Public Defender, requiring that they prepare their employees and alter their insurance policies to adjust to the Individuals with Disabilities Act and Colorado legislation when looking for to excuse potential jurors with disabilities.

However the Denver County Courtroom refused to achieve an analogous settlement. 

Denver County Courtroom’s then-presiding Choose Teresa Spahn submitted a response to Kontnik’s criticism towards the court docket. She incorrectly said, “There is no such thing as a case legislation in Colorado addressing whether or not placing an individual from a jury as a result of a incapacity violates the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act,” in keeping with the lawsuit. 

“As a result of Denver County Courtroom refused to resolve the case or acknowledge its responsibility to permit certified jurors like Mr. Kontnik to proceed via the jury course of, Mr. Kontnik and CCDC filed this lawsuit,” in keeping with a information launch.

Kevin Williams, civil rights authorized program director for Colorado Cross-Incapacity Coalition, has has introduced a whole lot of circumstances on behalf of individuals with disabilities throughout his tenure.

Williams, who mentioned the coalition has introduced a whole lot of circumstances on behalf of individuals with disabilities throughout his tenure, mentioned in an interview that he was significantly saddened by this one.

“Spencer Kontnik is certainly one of a handful of attorneys with disabilities who shares within the lived expertise of getting a incapacity and has executed a lot good for others who’re equally located,” he mentioned. “It’s time to put an finish to this shameful unfounded perception system in regards to the talents of these of us who’ve disabilities particularly by our personal colleagues and judges earlier than whom we observe.”