A conversation during an early 2020 road trip that reportedly included repeated references to the N-word has cost a Colorado state judge her job.
The Colorado Supreme Court publicly censured (i.e., formally reprimanded) Judge Natalie T. Chase, who is white, after an alleged conversation that left a black collogue feeling “uncomfortable” and resulted in Chase submitting her resignation effective at the end of May.
Chase, who was appointed by then-Democrat Gov. John Hickenlooper in 2014, presided in Arapahoe County in the Denver area.
According to a six-page ruling from the state’s highest court in which Judge Chase agreed to the factual rendition, she and two court employees, one of whom worked in the family court, were driving back from a legal conference in Pueblo, Colo., when the allegedly offensive remarks occurred.
“Judge Chase is white and the Family Court Facilitator is Black. On the way back from Pueblo, Judge Chase asked the Family Court Facilitator questions about 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 an ‘a‘ at the end of the word. During the conversation, Judge Chase used the full N–word a number of times,” the court detailed.
According to the court order, the facilitator “felt angry and hurt by the conversation,” describing the N-word usage as “like a stab through my heart each time.” She didn’t say anything at the time however, out of concerns for workplace retaliation.
The court asserted Chase violated ethics principles that require high standards for judicial conduct by which judges must abide. “You acknowledge that your use of the N–word does not promote public confidence in the judiciary and creates the appearance of impropriety. 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.”
“You acknowledge that your statements violated Canon Rule 2.3, which prohibits a judge from manifesting bias or prejudice based on race or ethnicity by word or action,” the court added, among other things, in evaluating the overall record.
As alluded to immediately above, this was not the only transgression that got Judge Chase in hot water, as the state supreme court explained in its censure order. During a discussion with staff in February 2020, the judge reportedly said that she had no intention of watching the Super Bowl because she opposed players kneeling during the National Anthem, according to the court document.
In May 2020, following the George Floyd death in Minneapolis police custody, in another conversation with employees she “stated that she believes all lives matter. Judge Chase also stated that the conduct of the police officers in the George Floyd matter should be investigated.”
The court underscored that both of these conversations allegedly occurred with black employees present while Chase was wearing her judicial robe and was on the bench at the time.
Chase separately disparaged another judge as a “f—— b—-,” according to a court clerk, the state supreme court noted. In addition, Chase allegedly told a clerk to research a legal issue on a personal matter unrelated to the judge’s caseload and required her clerk to “edit or rewrite the emails so they sounded better before the Judge sent them off to the intended recipient.”
The court also noted that the judge had a history of discussing personal matters with staff in the courthouse “in a manner that was not dignified or courteous.” And during what’s described as a “medical episode,” she once allegedly declined an ambulance and instead made a court employee drive her to the emergency, leading the employee to miss “a half day of work to accommodate Judge Chase.”
“Based on these facts and conclusions, the Commission agreed in the Stipulation to recommend that you be publicly censured,” the court told Chase as it concluded its ruling. “You, in turn, have expressed remorse, apologized for your conduct, and agreed to waive your right to a hearing in formal proceedings, to be publicly censured, and to resign your position as a Judge.”
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