Colorado Appoints A Good Number Of Black Female Judges Within Two Years

by Duke Magazine

Colorado has been very impressive with the appointment of five new Black female judges in less than two years. In a state whose preponderance of population is white with about 84 percent, and just about 4 percent is Black, this news comes as a big surprise to many. Diversity and inclusion is really taking its shape with these appointments, even though many believe it has been much anticipated for long time. 

Colorado Governor Jared Polis made the five appointments to the statewide bench, and it is seen as an accomplishment which none of his 42 predecessors could attain. 

Frances Johnson was appointed to the 4th Judicial District Court in Colorado Springs in October 2019 nine months after Polis assumed office in January that same year. Johnson then became the first Black woman to be appointed to a district court position of general jurisdiction.

Polis then went on to appoint Nikea Bland to a Denver district court of general jurisdiction, making her the first Black woman to occupy the seat.

Bland is a former public defender and private practice defense attorney. She said in an interview with Essence, “it’s 2020, and there shouldn’t be any Black firsts left, but here we are.”. 

“I’m just glad to see we are finally moving forward. It’s progress.”

The next stream of appointments continued in February, 2020 when Pax Moultrie was selected for the Denver Juvenile Court. Polis went on to appoint Samorreyan “Sam” Burney to the 4th Judicial District County Court in Colorado Springs in April.

“I hope that the message being sent in Colorado and across the country is that we Black women shouldn’t be overlooked,” says Burney, an Orlando native and former prosecutor.

Jill Dorancy was selected as a district court judge in July, 2020, making Dorancy one of eight Black women currently serving among Colorado’s more than 160 judges.

“We’re qualified, we add value, and we’re a benefit to the system—not just by our presence but because of the diverse experiences, backgrounds and perspectives that we all bring.

“We’re five Black women, but we each bring something different to the table. Aside from the fact that we’re enhancing inclusivity and diversity in the state’s judiciary, we all deserve to be here,” Johnson said.

“It’s difficult for a society, for a community, to claim that the legal system is fair when people go in front of judges and don’t see the makeup of the community reflected there.

Representation cannot be overemphasized and Polis seems to be committed to lead change. He reiterated that in a statement and said, “I am honored to appoint several highly qualified and dedicated Black women to serve in Colorado’s judicial branch—it’s about time! 

“I am committed to building a Colorado for all, which is why we need more people of color in positions of leadership and represented in our government, in order to truly reflect our community.”

There have not been many Black female judges in Colorado as Polis’ predecessor John Hickenlooper. In his eight years in office, he appointed just two Black women to the bench.

A former public defender who became Colorado’s first Black woman judge in 1994, Claudia Jordan, wondered why it took so long for these appointments to be made although it is a cause for celebration.

“I am very happy about this, but my question is—and always has been—why did it take so long?” says Jordan. “It is definitely a time to rejoice. I am glad it’s happening now, but I don’t want it to stop. Everyone wins when diversity is championed on the bench.” 

The fight to make Colorado more diversified does not end with these appointments, according to former Sam Carry Bar Association (SCBA) president Terraine Bailey. 

“We stop and celebrate only for a moment, as we continue to close this diversity gap in the Colorado judiciary.”

Apparently, there are still no Black judges on the state appellate courts, which include the Colorado Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals.

Meanwhile, talent should always prevail over race or color and Moultrie believes that is the driving for diversity.

“It’s not the first place that people from outside the state would think of as diverse,” Moultrie, a former county attorney who previously clerked for two justices said.

“This is an example of what happens when people in leadership positions embrace and value diverse talent. If it can happen here in Colorado, it can happen anywhere!”

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