Former Chief Justice Coats Censured by Special Tribunal of Colorado Supreme Court

A man with white hair, wearing a judge's robe with a tie and glasses on, looks out in front of a podium with a microphone. Multiple people can be seen sitting in the background.
Former Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Coats has been publicly censured by a special tribunal of the Colorado Supreme Court. / Photo by Hannah Blatter for Law Week Colorado.

A special tribunal of the Colorado Supreme Court has publicly censured former Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Coats. 

In May based on a stipulated agreement between the Colorado Commission on Judicial Discipline and Coats, the commission filed court documents that recommended the public censure of Coats for not performing his judicial and administrative duties competently.

According to a statement from the CCJD in May, the entire Colorado Supreme Court had recused itself and directed the special tribunal be made up of judges from the Colorado Court of Appeals to review the matter.

According to an Aug. 7 court document from the special tribunal, Coats and the commission agreed to multiple facts in an amended stipulation. 

The tribunal later noted Coats failed to “perform judicial and administrative duties competently and diligently,” required by the Colorado Code of Judicial Conduct. The tribunal explained by allowing the Judicial Department to contract with the former Chief of Staff Mindy Masias, second in command of the State Court Administrator’s Office, after she’d resigned in lieu of termination, Coats undermined the public’s confidence in the integrity of the judiciary and didn’t exercise diligence.

The tribunal noted Coats allowed a potentially multimillion-dollar contract to be awarded to Masias who “the Judicial Department had earlier been willing to terminate for falsifying an invoice, despite having set a standard that the contract would not go forward if additional causes for concern arose and having subsequently learned of strong circumstantial evidence of misconduct on Masias’s part that demonstrated dishonesty while she was still employed with the SCAO.”

“Particularly concerning is that former Chief Justice Coats was separately contacted by the Attorney General and the State Auditor to advise him of the need to investigate the April 15 letter’s allegations, which included Masias, but he did not notify the Attorney General or the OSA about the contemplated contract with a subject of the allegations,” the tribunal continued. “Nor did he await the results of the OSA’s formal investigation before approving the post-resignation contract with the person being investigated.”

In the amended stipulation, on April 15, 2019, a month after signing her separation agreement, Masias emailed the entire Judicial Department that she was resigning as chief of staff because of a serious health condition. On the same day, Coats and the rest of the Supreme Court received an anonymous letter alleging misconduct by Masias, along with others from the SCAO, the document said. 

The tribunal noted, although Coats authorized withdrawal from the contract immediately upon learning of Masias’ secret recording of former Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Nancy Rice, compliance with the Colorado Code of Judicial Conduct required Coats to prevent the Judicial Department from entering the contract prior to its public execution in June 2019. According to the amended stipulation, Masias allegedly made the recording to document the reasons she wasn’t chosen to be the state court administrator

By way of mitigation, the commission acknowledged Coats made many of these decisions with, or based on the representations and recommendations of the state court administrator, fellow judicial officers, non-lawyer professionals and lawyers.

Coats agreed with the commission’s recommendation to be publicly censured. The commission didn’t seek fees or costs in the case. 

According to the Denver Post, Coats is the first Colorado Supreme Court justice to be censured.

The tribunal consisted of Colorado Court of Appeals Judges David Furman, Anthony Navarro, Elizabeth Harris, Rebecca Freyre, Craig Welling, Jaclyn Brown and Christina Gomez.

CORRECTION NOTE: This story was updated Aug. 8 regarding a quotation from a document from the special tribunal of the Colorado Supreme Court.
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