Colorado judge censured for using racial slur will resign, court says


Colorado judge censured for using racial slur will resign, court says

A Colorado judge has agreed to resign after the state Supreme Court censured her for repeatedly using a racial slur and making insensitive comments to Black judicial employees regarding police brutality and systemic racism.

A censure order released Friday by the Colorado Supreme Court shows that the judge, Natalie T. Chase of the state’s 18th Judicial District, agreed to step down after disciplinary proceedings against her. Her resignation will take effect May 31.

Chase, 43, who was based in Arapahoe County outside Denver, was appointed to the District Court in 2014 by Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat who is now a U.S. senator.

The Colorado Supreme Court said that Chase, who is white, had violated the duties of her office during a series of exchanges last year with Black judicial employees, which she had acknowledged had taken place.

In one episode, she had asked a family court facilitator, who is Black, why it was acceptable for Black people to use a racial slur, but not for white people to do so, the court order said. At the time, early 2020, the two were returning from attending a program in Pueblo, Colorado, in the judge’s car, along with a former judicial clerk.

“You acknowledge that your use of the N-word does not promote public confidence in the judiciary and creates the appearance of impropriety,” the Colorado Supreme Court said in the order. “Although not directed at any person, saying the N-word has a significant negative effect on the public’s confidence in integrity of and respect for the judiciary.”

Chase had also asked the family court facilitator, who was not identified, whether it made a difference how the slur was spelled and used the slur several times, the Colorado Supreme Court said.

“She has explained that Judge Chase’s use of the full N-word was ‘like a stab through my heart each time,’ ” the family court facilitator said, according to the censure order.

The Colorado Supreme Court said that Chase had expressed remorse and apologized for her conduct.

A lawyer for Chase, who had previously worked in private practice and served as a municipal court substitute judge, declined to comment Monday.

While her court had been in a recess in February 2020 and judicial employees had been discussing their plans to watch the Super Bowl, the censure order said, Chase told them that she would be boycotting the game because she objected to the NFL players who were kneeling during the national anthem.

She was still seated at the bench and wearing her robe when the episode happened, as well as during another episode last spring after George Floyd’s death, the censure order said.

As two Black court employees discussed the protests, officials said, Chase interjected with her opinions on racial justice issues and asked one of the employees questions about the Black Lives Matter movement.

“The employee tried to explain the Black Lives Matter movement, and Judge Chase stated that she believes all lives matter,” the censure order said, noting that Chase said the police officers’ conduct in Floyd’s death should be investigated.

The Colorado Supreme Court said that Chase had agreed to waive her right to a hearing in formal proceedings.

“You acknowledge you also undermined confidence in the impartiality of the judiciary by expressing your views about criminal justice, police brutality, race and racial bias, specifically while wearing your robe in court staff work areas and from the bench,” the court said.

A judicial nominating commission is expected to interview candidates for Chase’s seat in mid-May and refer three candidates for consideration to Gov. Jared Polis, who then will have 15 days to make an appointment, officials said.

Several judges in the country have lost their positions or been forced to step away from them because of their use of racial slurs or derogatory language since last year.

In Louisiana, a District Court judge resigned in February 2020 after she used a racial slur in a series of text messages that became public.

In Pennsylvania, an Allegheny County common pleas judge resigned last November after facing multiple misconduct charges, including a complaint that he called a juror “Aunt Jemima” during a post-trial conference.

In Washington state, a Clark County judge said last month that he would take a leave from the bench after he was criticized for making disparaging comments about a Black man who had been killed by the police.