Ex-Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan “Ben” Coats censured

A special tribunal has issued an unprecedented public censure of former Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan “Ben” Coats for violating the state’s judicial code of conduct when he allowed a $2.75 million contract with a former top courts administrator.

The censure is largely ceremonial, carrying no penalty. Coats retired in 2020. A 16-page document posted Monday morning on the Colorado Supreme Court website declares, “The Special Tribunal hereby publicly censures you, former Chief Justice Nathan B. Coats, for violating Colorado Code of Judicial Conduct Canon Rule.”

This censure was based on an agreement reached earlier this year between Coats and the Colorado Commission on Judicial Discipline. Coats admitted he failed to perform judicial and administrative duties “competently and diligently” as required.

It’s the first time a Colorado Supreme Court justice has been censured. The current high court justices recused themselves from this case, directing a special tribunal made of Colorado Court of Appeals judges to handle the matter.

Those judges concluded in their decision that Coats “undermined the public’s confidence in the integrity of the judiciary,” the censure document said.

This censure marks the latest step in a mop-up after misdeeds that have shaken Colorado’s high court at a time when nationwide public confidence in the judicial branch of government has eroded following unpopular U.S. Supreme Court decisions and revelations of questionable judicial conduct.

In addition to his judicial duties reviewing legal decisions on the Colorado Supreme Court, Coats as chief justice also was responsible for courts administration — for which he may not have received sufficient training, the reviewing judges determined. Coats served as chief justice from 2018 until 2020.

During that time, the state judicial branch issued a $2.75 million contract to Mindy Masias, who had served as chief of staff in the Colorado Judicial Department. She was facing dismal for misconduct. She took a leave.

Another state judicial branch employee leaked information about the awarding of the contract, which would have funded judicial education activities. The employee alleged that the contract was given to Masias to prevent her from revealing high court judges’ misconduct. The contract was issued before Masias resigned from her position at the court.

An investigation last year concluded that, while the issuance of the contract involved unethical behavior, misconduct and lies, the contract wasn’t specifically designed to silence Masias. Outside investigators found evidence of a toxic work environment where top state judicial officials pursued the contract. They determined that Coats as an administrator was out-of-touch and easily manipulated, not equipped to manage the state judicial department.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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