COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (CBS4) – Nearly 100 federal judges and their wives descended on the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, a five-star resort at the foot of the Rockies, for a judicial conference over the Labor Day weekend despite deep federal budget cuts that have slashed school programs, classes for developmentally disabled kids and layoffs and furloughs for federal workers.
Federal authorities estimate taxpayers spent about $200,000 for the conference but are refusing to release contracts and agreements that would spell out how the money was spent.
“We do not consider our contract with the Broadmoor or any agreements we have with speakers to be public information,” said David Tighe, the federal court administrator in Denver who coordinated the conference.
CBS4 did learn that rooms for the judges and their spouses cost $300 per night and a chicken lunch held during the conference cost $54 per person.
The three-day conference for judges and officials from the 10th Circuit, which includes judges from Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Kansas, Oklahoma and New Mexico was held Aug. 29, 30 and 31. It included numerous “breakout sessions” along with an appearance by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
One session taught judges and lawyers how to use their iPads, Kindles and other electronic tablets. Another session offered individual retirement and benefits counseling for judges and their spouses. In addition to the judges and their wives, court officials say 239 attorneys attended the conference.
“It’s a great interaction between the bar and judges,” said Tighe. “A lot of people bring their spouses.”
Several attendees told CBS4 they viewed the conference as worthwhile and productive.
Asked why the federal judiciary opted to hold its conference at a luxurious five-star resort, Tighe responded, “We’ve been to the Broadmoor in the past and attendance by lawyers increased by 50 percent. If the Broadmoor is going to bring in the crowd, we should do it there.”
The Broadmoor offers sumptuous surroundings, three championship golf courses and pools, a five-star spa along with “impeccable service” and “personalized luxury,” according to its website. It’s a Triple AAA Five-Diamond award winner.
Tighe told CBS4 the 10th Circuit canceled a planned 2012 conference due to budget concerns and rescheduled it for this year.
“We again considered canceling the conference when the sequester occurred … the hotel cancellation fees made it more cost-effective to proceed,” said Tighe.
But Tighe refused to release a list of what judges attended the conference, the contract with the Broadmoor which would show the cancellation fees, or any financial agreements with speakers who were flown in saying none of that was “public information,” even though taxpayers picked up the tab.
Steven Smith, a law professor from the University of San Diego, was one of the speakers at the conference. He told CBS4, “I’d say the Broadmoor is a little bit classier than the hotels we normally stay at for academic conferences.”
Smith spoke about religious freedom and said the government paid for his travel and all conference expenses.
“I think the Broadmoor is well known as a nice hotel. I imagine that is part of the attraction. I felt it was an honor to participate in a conference of that kind,” said Smith.
Tighe said there are no plans in place for the next conference for the 10th Circuit Court.
– Written by Brian Maass for CBSDenver.com