On Monday. August 7, 2023, the Supreme Court of the State of Colorado publicly censured former Chief Justice of the Colorado Supreme Court Nathan B. Coats for his participation in a controversial $2.75 million contract.

The case is entitled “In the Matter Nathan B. Coats,” with case no. 23SA114.

The charges cited Code of Judicial Conduct Rule 2.5(A).

On May 4, 2023, the Colorado Commission on Judicial Discipline released its statement regarding the stipulation recommending that former State Supreme Court Chief Justice Coats be publicly censured for his failure to perform judicial and administrative duties competently and diligently. The call for public censure pertains to Coats’ participation in a controversial $2.75 million contract granted in 2019 to Mindy Masias, who was then the chief of staff for the Colorado Judicial Department.

According to a statement by Chris Ryan, who was the state court administrator at the time, the contract was given to Masias with the intention of silencing her concerning judges’ wrongdoing. However, an unbiased investigation found that while the contract was laden with unethical behavior, impropriety, and falsehoods, its primary purpose was not specifically to discourage Masias from revealing incriminating details.

The Commission and Coats agreed on a modified stipulation that acknowledged that Coats had indeed not performed his judicial and administrative duties competently and diligently.

The filing states:

“Former Chief Justice Coats failed to “perform judicial and administrative duties competently and diligently,” as required by Ca non Rule 2.5(A) of the Colorado Code of Judicial Conduct. By allowing the Judicial Department to contract with the former Chief of Staff after she had resigned in lieu of termination from the SCAO, former Chief Justice Coats undermined the public’s confidence in the integrity of the judiciary and failed to exercise diligence in the performance of his administrative duties.”

The filing continues:

“That is, former Chief Justice Coats allowed the potentially multimillion-dollar contract to be awarded to an employee 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.”

The filing further states:

“That circumstantial evidence included the meeting about Masias’s “knowing some bad stuff” about the Judicial Department, Masias’s corrupted laptop, and Masias’s role in the surveillance-related separation agreement that Justice Coats considered outrageous and by which Masias was alleged to have used state funds to silence a witness to her own conduct. 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 law, the evidence, the records of the proceedings, the amended stipulation, and the commission’s suggestions were reviewed by the Special Tribunal of the Supreme Court of Colorado, and it received adequate guidance on this matter. It determined that the amended stipulation complied with RJD 37(e) and was confirmed by the records of the proceedings. As a result, it instructed the enforcement of the amended stipulation and delivered the agreed punishment.

The order states:

“The Special Tribunal hereby publicly censures you, former Chief Justice Nathan B. Coats, for violating the Colorado Code of Judicial Conduct Canon Rule 2.5(A).”

Mr. Nathan Coats earned a law degree from the University of Colorado, graduating in 1977. Coats is the former Chief Justice of the Colorado Supreme Court. The judge served on the court until his retirement on December 31, 2020. Coats’ info can be found on Ballotpedia.

A copy of the original filing can be found here.