Colorado’s Federal Trial Court Welcomes Newly Confirmed Judge Crews and Preps for Historic Session as State Supreme Court Returns

Denver, Colorado – The U.S. Senate has confirmed the president’s nominee to Colorado’s federal trial court. Additionally, the state Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments in six cases. U.S. Magistrate Judge S. Kato Crews has been appointed as a district judge after being nominated by the White House eleven months ago. Despite facing criticism for his inability to describe a key Supreme Court decision during his confirmation hearing, Crews has received support from practitioners in Colorado’s federal courts.

President Joe Biden has made significant appointments to Colorado’s court, with five of the seven active district judges being his appointees. This includes filling seats left vacant by both Obama and George W. Bush appointees. With Crews’ confirmation, there are currently no current or announced vacancies among the district judge bench, suggesting there will not be a wave of retirements in the near future.

While the district judge bench appears stable, vacancies among magistrate judges are still a concern. Four new appointments have been made since 2021, and another vacancy is on the way. Applicants for this position have until February 12 to apply.

In a notable development, a “chief magistrate judge” position has been created at the district court. Michael E. Hegarty, the most senior magistrate judge, will be the first to hold this title for a four-year term. The majority of federal judicial districts do not have a chief magistrate judge position, but the magistrate judge bench in Colorado specifically requested this designation. The request was granted by the district judges.

Moving to the Colorado Supreme Court, six cases are scheduled for oral arguments this week. One case under scrutiny is Godinez v. Williams et al., which focuses on whether Colorado’s process for considering parole eligibility for juveniles convicted of sex offenses as adults complies with the U.S. Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Eighth Amendment. Other cases cover topics such as recusal of trial judges, evidence sufficiency, and the time limit for filing a lawsuit after a motor vehicle accident.

In federal news, Judge Timothy M. Tymkovich of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit has been assigned to the nation’s secretive wiretapping appeals court by the chief justice. The 10th Circuit also ruled that a man can sue an off-duty Aurora police officer for wrongly seizing items from his pockets. In other cases, a federal judge rejected the idea that a Black bank customer had to resolve her race discrimination claims through mandatory arbitration, and another judge determined that Adams County deputies did not violate a man’s constitutional rights during an arrest.

Former Mesa County Clerk and Recorder Tina Peters will face a criminal trial in state court for charges related to alleged tampering with election equipment. Despite Peters’ attempt to halt the state prosecution, a federal judge declined to intervene. On a separate note, U.S. Magistrate Judge Scott T. Varholak is currently undergoing the reappointment process. A merit selection panel will provide their recommendation by April 5.

During legislative oversight hearings, judicial leaders discussed the $35 million in damages caused by an individual to the Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center. This incident has rendered several offices inaccessible for at least the next month, if not longer. There were also talks about potential changes to judicial discipline procedures for senior judges, a proposal that was not well-received. The Colorado Access to Justice Commission’s year-end report highlighted the development of a new self-help website and the use of federal grant money to address legal deserts in rural areas. Restorative justice grants are also being made available for organizations focused on critical conversations and strengthening best practices.

In conclusion, Colorado’s courts are undergoing significant changes and facing various challenges. From new appointments to appellate court assignments, the state’s judicial system is experiencing a wave of activity that will shape the future of the legal landscape.