As ex-judge faces possible prison time, those who appeared in his Greeley courtroom wonder why his judgements stand
Ryan Kamada pleaded guilty to obstructing a federal drug investigation, has been disbarred
Originally Published; Oct. 3, 2020 | Republished by LIT; Oct 11, 2020
For most of her life, Amanda Harmon believed the courts were fair and just.
Save for a few traffic-related instances, Harmon had rarely dealt with legal issues. A courtroom didn’t give her anxiety. It didn’t give her fear.
But her whole perception of justice changed after her time in Judge Ryan Kamada’s Greeley courtroom.
“I knew right away he was crooked,” Harmon said. “There was something corrupt and vile about him.”
Her suspicions were confirmed, she said, when the former Weld County District Court judge pleaded guilty last year to obstructing a federal investigation into a large-scale cocaine trafficking organization.
A disciplinary investigation showed Kamada had also maintained long-running text chains with his friends, during which he disparaged those appearing in his court, mocked attorneys and joked about the safety of children as he decided on custody arrangements.
Kamada resigned from the bench last year, was disbarred this summer and soon could face prison time.
But while Kamada is no longer a judge, his rulings continue to be felt by Harmon and a host of other families, who are now expressing dismay, alleging their cases were tainted by the disgraced judge as they wonder how they can make their voices heard.
“All of these decisions are fruit of a poisoned tree,” Harmon said.
Investigation into Kamada
Kamada’s downfall began in October 2018, when a federal task force began investigating a drug trafficking organization that was distributing large amounts of cocaine throughout northern Colorado, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Colorado. Investigators realized that Kamada had known one of the drug traffickers since high school.
Just one month earlier, former Gov. John Hickenlooper had appointed Kamada to replace Elizabeth Strobel as a district court judge in Weld County.
In April 2019, Kamada received a call from a task force officer seeking a search warrant as part of an investigation into a suspected drug trafficker named Alberta Loya, according to the former judge’s admission of misconduct during his review before the Colorado Supreme Court. The officer noted that Kamada was friends with Loya on Facebook, prompting the judge to recuse himself from the case.
But the next morning, Kamada called his best friend, an assistant middle school principal named Geoffrey Chacon, who also grew up with Loya, investigators said. Kamada warned Chacon that authorities were following Loya and that his friend should stay away from him.
Chacon then notified Loya about the warrant, and changed his own behavior “in order to avoid law enforcement attention,” federal prosecutors said.
In August 2019, Kamada resigned from the bench. Two months later, Chacon pleaded guilty in federal court to one count of destruction of records with the intent to obstruct a federal investigation.
Loya was indicted on 21 counts related to drug trafficking activity, and pleaded guilty to felony counts of conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute a controlled substance and conspiracy to launder money. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison in June.
Also in June, Kamada pleaded guilty to obstructing the federal investigation, and in August he was disbarred for violating eight different rules of professional and judicial conduct. He’s scheduled to be sentenced in federal court on Dec. 4, and could face between 12 and 41 months in prison, according to his plea agreement.
John Gleason, who represented Kamada during his disciplinary review process, told The Denver Post that “everything I’ve heard about him is that he was a great lawyer and great judge who simply made a mistake, and he’s paid dearly for it.”
Kamada, through his criminal defense attorney, declined to comment.
But during the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel’s investigation into his misconduct, new details emerged about Kamada’s behavior during his time on the bench.
As a magistrate judge, Kamada would routinely text his friends information about people and cases in his courtroom, according to the stipulation filed with the Colorado Supreme Court, which deals with attorney discipline.
In one September 2016 exchange, a friend asked the judge to look up information on an individual.
That person, Kamada said, “wasn’t convicted of the sex assault but he was on other charges and ended up in (expletive) prison man … Oh yeah. He was (expletive) a 14-year-old and giving her cocaine. Don’t say anything man,” according transcripts of the text in the stipulation.
In a December 2016 group text, Kamada talked about a former client, saying, “I did her custody (expletive) and she is one strange cat. If that kid lives I’ll be shocked.”
Soon after beginning his role as a district court judge in January 2019, Kamada was presiding over a divorce proceeding, which included an allocation of parental rights.
Kamada texted a photo of the divorce papers, telling his friends that he was “going to grant this today so she is free game tomorrow night.”
Fighting for new judgements
When Amy Barton heard these allegations, it confirmed her gut feeling that something just wasn’t right in Kamada’s courtroom.
She and her ex-husband appeared before Kamada four years ago for a child custody case and “the whole time in court, (Kamada) was picking his fingernails and you could tell he wasn’t paying attention,” Barton said. “He was completely checked out.”
For Barton and others who appeared before the judge, word of his indictment and disbarment served as a modicum of good news — “karma finally bit him in the (expletive),” she said.
But when several people appealed to get Kamada’s judgements vacated or their cases reheard, they were denied.
“It seems like the courts are trying to sweep it under the rug,” Harmon said.
While Kamada’s actions may be well-deserving of removal from the bench or disbarment, that does not mean that everything he touched gets to be relitigated, said Eli Wald, a professor and legal ethics scholar at the University of Denver’ Sturm College of Law.
“The thing we worry about most is the integrity of the proceedings and compliance with the law and perception of law and justice,” Wald said. “Unless there’s anything in the removal proceedings that causes us to doubt the integrity of the proceedings, the mere removal (of a judge) should not cause us to worry about revisiting every case.”
This feels like a miscarriage of justice, Barton and Harmon said. And it has both of them, along with others who dealt with Kamada, questioning their belief in the entire judicial system.
“It’s disheartening knowing this man was appointed to a position that is supposed to uphold ethics and be honorable, and he’s doing such skeezy stuff,” Barton said.
That hasn’t stopped a group from organizing to raise awareness. A group of about 15 parents who had Kamada preside over their cases started a Facebook group, with people talking about a filing a lawsuit or protesting in front of the courthouse. The court may not rehear their cases. But that doesn’t mean they’re going to be silent.
“It’s always strength in numbers,” Barton said. “If five of us say we want change, they can ignore us. But if we get hundreds, then they have to listen.”
We’ve scoured for an update on this @DC_Bar ethics complaint against Bill Barr by @LDADemocracy as the Bar inquiry stage is 30-45 days – Its now in excess of 2 months and it appears nobody has any update as to whether Barr has to answer the Bar complaint https://t.co/mPyIaKUl1A pic.twitter.com/fefpGsV4lF
— LawsInTexas (@lawsintexasusa) October 11, 2020
People v. Ryan L. Kamada. 20PDJ057. August 31, 2020.
The Presiding Disciplinary Judge approved the parties’ conditional admission of misconduct and disbarred Ryan L. Kamada (attorney registration number 36984). The disbarment took effect August 31, 2020.
Kamada violated several Rules of Professional Conduct and Judicial Conduct while serving first as a county magistrate and then as a district court judge.
While Kamada served as a magistrate, he purchased marijuana from a friend on multiple occasions.
He also looked up information on a third party’s conviction for the same friend.
Over a group text chain, Kamada disclosed information about a former client and her case.
He discussed with his friends several cases over which he presided, and he made disparaging remarks about a lawyer who appeared before him.
Kamada also emailed his friends photographs of his work area that included a computer screen showing case numbers, litigants’ names, events, and document titles.
As a district court judge, Kamada discussed with his friends cases over which he presided, emailed photographs he took of parties and court documents, and attempted to look up case information for a friend.
When Kamada reviewed a warrant request by the joint drug task force, the law enforcement officer noted that Kamada was connected to members of the warrant subject’s social media network. The officer took the warrant to the next judge on the on-call list.
Kamada discussed the warrant with a friend, who then informed the warrant subject.
The friend asked Kamada for updates on the investigation, and Kamada fabricated information in an attempt to convince his friend to avoid the warrant subject.
Kamada pleaded guilty to the offense of obstruction of proceedings before a federal department or agency in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1505 for his actions related to the warrant.
Through this conduct, Kamada violated Colo. RPC 1.9(c)(2) (a lawyer who has formerly represented a client in a matter shall not use information relating to the representation except as permitted or required by the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct);
Colo. RPC 8.4(b) (it is professional misconduct for a lawyer to commit a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer in other respects);
Colo. RPC 8.4(d) (it is professional misconduct for a lawyer to engage in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice);
Colo. C.J.C. Rule 1.1(A) (a judge shall comply with the law, including the Code of Judicial Conduct);
Colo. C.J.C. Rule 1.2 (a judge shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary, and shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety);
Colo. C.J.C. Rule 1.3 (a judge shall not abuse the prestige of the judicial office to advance the personal or economic interests of the judge or others, or allow others to do so);
Colo. C.J.C. Rule 2.9 (a judge shall not engage or consider ex parte communications except as allowed by the Code of Judicial Conduct or otherwise authorized by law);
and Colo. C.J.C. Rule 2.10 (a judge shall refrain from making public and nonpublic statements that interfere with or are inconsistent with the fair and impartial administration of justice).
The case file is public per C.R.C.P. 251.31.
Former Colorado Judge Pleads Guilty To Obstructing Task Force Investigation Into Large-Scale Cocaine Trafficking Organization
DENVER – United States Attorney Jason R. Dunn announced today that a former Colorado state district court judge, Ryan Kamada, age 41, of Windsor, Colorado, pleaded guilty to obstructing a federal task force investigation of a large-scale cocaine trafficking organization.
Kamada learned about the investigation in his official capacity as a judge and then disclosed details of the investigation to a friend, who then tipped off the target individual.
Joining U.S. Attorney Dunn in this announcement is Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and Special Agent in Charge Michael Schneider of the FBI’s Denver Field Office.
Kamada pleaded guilty to one count of obstruction of proceedings before a department or agency of the United States. The plea was entered before U.S. District Judge William J. Martinez. A sentencing hearing is scheduled for December 4, 2020.
According to the stipulated facts contained in the plea agreement, beginning in or around October 2018, a federal task force was investigating a drug trafficking organization that was distributing large quantities of cocaine throughout northern Colorado. One of the members of the organization was a drug trafficker who lived in Greeley, Colorado. Kamada had known the drug trafficker since high school.
Beginning in January 2019, Kamada served as a District Court Judge of the 19th Judicial District of Colorado.
While serving as the “on call” judge one evening in April 2019, Kamada received a phone call from a task force officer who was seeking a search warrant related to the investigation into the drug trafficker.
The task force officer pointed out to Kamada that he was associated with the drug trafficker on social media. As a result, Kamada recused himself from the case.
But early the next morning, Kamada called his best friend, Geoffrey Chacon, who had also known the drug trafficker since childhood. Kamada told Chacon that law enforcement was “watching” the drug trafficker’s house, car and phone, and instructed Chacon to “stay away” from the drug trafficker.
Chacon subsequently informed the drug trafficker about the warrant and modified Chacon’s own behavior in order to avoid law enforcement attention.
The information that Chacon provided to the drug trafficker also caused the drug trafficker to change his pattern of conduct and substantially interfered with the task force’s investigation.
After Chacon relayed the information that he received from the judge to the drug trafficker, Chacon destroyed records of his communications with the drug trafficker in order to impair efforts by law enforcement to tie Chacon to the drug trafficker.
In November 2019, Chacon pleaded guilty in federal court to one count of destruction of records with the intent to obstruct a federal investigation.
The FBI’s Denver Field Office is investigating the case, with substantial assistance from the Greeley Police Department. Assistant U.S. Attorney Bryan Fields of the District of Colorado and Trial Attorney John Taddei of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section (PIN) are prosecuting the case.
A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado. Related court documents can be found on PACER by searching for Case Number 20-cr-174.
The year 2020 marks the 150th anniversary of the Department of Justice. Learn more about the history of our agency at www.Justice.gov/Celebrating150Years.