AURORA | The Colorado Supreme Court on Friday agreed to publicly censure and accept the forthcoming resignation of an Arapahoe County district court judge found to have used racial slurs around staffers, expressed personal views on social justice while on the bench and used expletives to refer to colleagues, among other infractions.
The justices unanimously issued a six-page order April 16 outlining a litany of accusations against 18th Judicial District Court Judge Natalie Chase and concluding with a stipulation to publicly censure her. The court determined that Chase violated four separate judicial rules, including those related to professionalism and “manifesting bias or prejudice based on race or ethnicity.”
The document, which technically accepted previous sanctions determined by a panel on judicial discipline, lists more than half a dozen instances of misconduct involving Chase in the past year.
A spokesperson for the state court system on Monday clarified that Chase will not work as a judge in the weeks until her resignation, though she will continue to be paid.
In early 2020, Chase, who is white, asked a Black female court staffer “why Black people can use the N-word but not white people, and whether it was different if the N-word is said with an ‘er’ or and ‘a’ at the end of the word,” according to the order. The staffer, a family court facilitator, told officials that she felt trapped in the conversation as she was returning with Chase in her personal vehicle from a work engagement in Pueblo.
“She has explained that Judge Chase’s use of the full N-word was ‘like a stab through my heart each time,’” the order reads.
Around the same time, Chase opined during a courtroom break that she would be boycotting the Super Bowl as she disagreed with players’ decision to kneel during the National Anthem. She was on the bench and wearing robes while making those comments, and a pair of Black court employees were in the courtroom at the time.
The week after George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis last spring, Chase again conversed with Black court employees about the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement across the country. In response to a Black employee attempting to explain motivations behind the movement, “Chase stated that she believes all lives matter,” the order reads.
In other instances last year, law clerks reported that Chase called a fellow judge a “f****** b****” shortly after meeting with her and repeatedly had her staffers rewrite her emails “so they sounded better before the judge sent them off to the intended recipient,” according to the order.
Chase also asked clerks to research a personal legal issue for a member of her family and repeatedly discussed personal matters with staffers, according to the court.
Chase, a former Aurora city attorney, was originally appointed to the bench by former Gov. John Hickenlooper in 2014. She won another six-year term to her seat in Aurora’s largest judicial district in 2016 with more than two-thirds of the vote, according to election records. A state panel on judicial performance that reviews the work of judges prior to elections voted 10-0 to keep her on the bench five years ago.
Chase was admitted to practice law in the state after graduating from the University of Denver Sturm College of Law in 2003, according to state records.
Prior to joining the bench, she worked in her own firm, specializing in criminal defense, family law and estate planning.
Chase has apologized to the judiciary and declined to pursue further legal proceedings related to these incidents, according to the order. The court also accepted her resignation, which will take effect in 45 days.
A nominating commission will consider replacements for Chase’s position on the bench on May 18, the state court system announced Monday. The new judge will inherit a salary just north of $173,000 per year.
Justice hawks have hinted at calls to upend the state’s current gubernatorial appointment system for state court judges, with former Democratic state Rep. Joe Salazar suggesting on Twitter that the state senate should have a say in confirming judges in a system mirroring the federal process.
Omar Montgomery, president of the Aurora chapter of the NAACP, said he would welcome state officials looking into the implementation of such a system in Colorado.
”I think taking the power out of just one person’s hands is always good,” he said. “I would just like to see a model that’s been successful.”
Currently, a seven-person commission forwards a smattering of preferred names to the governor’s office after a vetting process. The governor then chooses a finalist, affording them a two-year provisional term as a judge before they face re-election via ballot.
Montgomery added that he would like to see an investigation into Chase’s old cases to determine whether any biases were injected into her application of justice.
”What I would like to see is an investigation of the cases and see if that bias transferred into how a case was managed by this judge,” he said. “I think that’s a fair question to ask.”