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Diversity on the Bench Coalition 2024: Recruit, Retain and Support a More Representative Judicial System

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[Note: This article was originally published December 28, 2023, on the Law Week Colorado website. Reprinted here with permission.]

Law Week recently caught up with members and founders of the Diversity on the Bench Coalition ahead of 2024.

The Diversity on the Bench Coalition is a collaborative partnership between the Colorado Bar Association and the Colorado Judicial Institute and is currently co-chaired by retired Judge Cynthia Mares and Magistrate Judge Maritza Braswell.

“The impetus for the coalition was because of the lack of diversity on the bench,” said Mares. And its mission is simple: “to have the Colorado court bench reflect the diversity of the population of the state.”

According to CBA’s director of local bar and legal community relations Meghan Bush, founder and first chair of the coalition Judge Gary Jackson in 2018 led a call to action to provide awareness to many legal organizations across the state.

At the time, there were only three Black judges out of 334 judges in the state, Bush explained to Law Week via email. But back then, more than 25% of Colorado’s population was Hispanic and Black.

“It was clear the Colorado Judicial Officers appointed were not representing the communities they served,” noted Bush. “Diversity is inclusive of additional under-represented people like the LGBTQIA community, those with disabilities or who are neurodiverse.”

Having judicial officers represent a range of lived experiences helps them to make informed decisions when working with the public, Bush continued.

Jackson had decade-long relationships with the leadership of the CBA, the CJI and the American Board of Trial Advocates.

Those leaders were Chuck Turner and Amy Larson, executive directors of the CBA, Peter Koclanes and Justice Richard Gabriel, chair and board members of the CJI and Pete Ramirez and Sonny Flowers, chairs of the ABOTA, explained Jackson.

“I drew upon the goodwill of each of them and the abysmal facts of the lack of racial inclusion on the Colorado Bench spoke for themselves,” wrote Jackson to Law Week via email.

The coalition’s action plan covers initiatives across five categories including candidates, nominating commissions, deciding officials, accountability and tracking and messaging and programming.

Executive Director Jeff Rupp told Law Week that diversity and inclusion are important issues to CJI.

“We at CJI believe strongly in the importance of the Diversity on the Bench coalition’s work to ensure that Colorado’s courts reflect the diversity of the communities they serve,” wrote Rupp to Law Week via email. “CJI is proud to be involved with this important work.”

This important work isn’t just about diversity, but about retaining diverse judges as well.

“There are a lot of diverse judges already that need some support and our goal is to be good partners with those who already support them and those who are already putting in great effort to increase diversity on the bench,” Braswell explained, noting “It takes community to do that work.”

Bush told Law Week the coalition meets regularly as a group and discusses how it can recruit diverse attorneys and retain diverse judicial officers, which are two focus areas for the coalition in 2024.

“This coalition provides an opportunity for our diverse members to get an understanding of what it may be like to be a judicial officer and if it fits in their career track for their future,” added Bush.

Braswell explains there are three things the coalition is looking at closely: using its resources wisely; being thoughtful about who’s in the best position to do what; and making sure that members are being good listeners across the state so that it continues to tailor support to the needs of every community. The coalition wants to ensure its efforts aren’t duplicative, but instead enhance and push initiatives forward.

According to the FY2023 Annual Legislative Report of the Judicial Diversity Outreach Program of the Colorado Judicial Department, from July 1, 2022, to June 30, 2023, the Colorado Judicial Department welcomed 46 judges to the bench.

The Judicial Diversity Outreach Program was established by Senate Bill 19-043 to “provide outreach regarding judicial office vacancies and to create and deliver educational programming about the judicial application process … this is the first program of its kind both in Colorado and in the nation.”

“Studies show that perceptions of racial and gender bias have negatively impacted public trust and confidence in the judicial system,” noted Rupp. “And given the judicial system relies to some degree on that public trust and confidence to operate effectively, it is vitally important we address these issues.”

According to the judicial report, of the new appointments, “50% of are women and 50% are men, which are the same percentages as last fiscal year. Of the forty-six appointees, 28% were judges of color: one American Indian/Native judge (2.2% of new appointments), three Asian/Asian American judges (6.5%) one Black/African American judges (2.2%), five Hispanic/Latino judges (10.9%), and three multiracial judges (6.5%) joined the bench. Thirty-three judges, or 72% of FY2023 appointments, identified as White (not Hispanic or Latino), which is down from 75% last year. Of the new judge appointees, fifteen (33%) were judicial officers (magistrates, municipal court judges, or county court judges) at time of appointment.”

According to Braswell, the coalition sees a clear disconnect between the Hispanic population in Colorado and the Hispanic judicial officers currently on the bench.

​​”Colorado is lacking in Hispanic American and Native American judges, especially in southern Colorado,” added Jackson.

To rectify this disconnect, creating a judicial candidate pipeline is also a continued commitment in 2024. The coalition hopes to assure children, college students and graduates that a future and career in the judicial system is possible for each of them.

“Sometimes when you’re in a marginalized community, you’re thinking about other things; the basics: survival, fitting in, getting your work done,” added Braswell. “So it’s really critical for the coalition to think about ways to reach those people who haven’t thought about it, who would be perfectly qualified but need that nudge … staying visible and letting people know we’re a resource.”

Mares says the disconnect is also due to the lack of judicial retention.

“Part of the problem is the isolation of the job,” noted Mares. “So when you think about retention and the fact the attorneys [and] judges are overworked and the amount of time that they’re spending on the bench and that isolation … a lot of that has its health effects.”

“We have to make sure that the judges that are on the bench stay on the bench and are properly trained,” continued Mares.

For 2024, the coalition’s four focus areas are recruiting and supporting potential candidates for judicial positions, supporting existing judicial officers, partnering with key decision-makers and staying visible.

“If we’re staying visible, I think it’s easier for us to hold all of the right people accountable,” added Braswell.

For more information, or if you’re interested in volunteering for the coalition, you can contact Katrina Silbaq at 303-824-5347 or