DENVER (CN) – The Colorado Supreme Court upheld sanctions against a state appellate judge Monday, finding the now-former judge was not protected by the First Amendment when she emailed offensive comments about an ongoing case to a boyfriend.
The 16-page per curiam order agrees former Colorado Court of Appeals judge Laurie Booras should be publicly censured for “disclosing confidential information belonging to the court of appeals to an intimate nonspousal partner and using inappropriate racial epithets,” and her resignation from the bench amounts to an appropriate sanction.
While presiding over an appeal between Xiuhtezcatl Martinez and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conversation Commission in 2017, Booras wrote about how the court planned handle the ruling in an email to her then-boyfriend.
“We had an oral argument yesterday re: fracking ban where there was standing room only and a hundred people in our overflow video room,” Booras wrote. “The little Mexican is going to write in favor of the plaintiffs and it looks like I am dissenting in favor of the Oil and Gas Commission.”
“The little Mexican” was a reference to Booras’ Latina colleague who favored the youth plaintiffs in her opinion.
In another email, Booras called her ex-husband’s new wife, a woman of Navajo descent, “the squaw.”
Booras argued the private comments were protected by the First Amendment. The Colorado high court disagreed.
“Balancing a judge’s right, as a citizen, to free speech against the state’s interests in ensuring the fairness and impartiality of its courts, public confidence in those courts, and the proper and efficient functioning of the court system for those working within it, inappropriate racial epithets and derogatory remarks are not matters of legitimate public concern warranting First Amendment protection,” the justices wrote.
Additionally, the court said allowing Booras to remain on the bench without a reprimand would send a negative public image.
“The knowledge of Judge Booras’s racially inappropriate comments could understandably have caused concern among parties of diverse backgrounds, and particularly those of Latino and Native American ancestry, who inevitably would have appeared before Judge Booras were she to have returned to the court of appeals,” the court wrote. “The judicial system cannot function properly if public confidence in a court is eroded in this way.”
This past January, the Colorado Supreme Court cited Booras’ dissenting opinion when it ruled in favor of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and rejected a petition brought by Martinez and other young people asking the state to make human health a priority when issuing permits for oil and gas drilling.
In light of the probe of Booras’ emails, Martinez filed a motion to vacate the judge’s dissent and asking for reconsideration of the case. The high court declined.
Booras met her former partner, referred to in court documents as J.S., in 2007, and while he told her he was a divorced Denverite he was actually a married Californian. In 2018, after his wife learned of their affair, J.S. gave copies of the emails in question to the Denver Post and several public officials who launched an investigation.
The high court found Booras should have used better judgment.
“Although the two did not see each other frequently, they communicated often, and Judge Booras described their relationship as an intimate one that she had believed would one day result in marriage, the evidence in the record tends to show, however, that by the time of the events at issue, the relationship was deteriorating, and Judge Booras had good reason to distrust J.S.,” the justices wrote.
The Colorado Commission on Judicial Discipline recommended Booras be removed from office and pay the commission’s costs in the matter. In the meantime, however, Booras resigned. The high court found the resignation sufficient and ordered Booras to pay for the costs of the probe.
“Judge Booras is happy this chapter is finally closed,” her attorney David Beller said in an email. “Her argument, and this win, was always a legal one. She’s never justified her words and remains remorseful that her private attempt at humor caused hurt to people she cared about. With this decision, she hopes the chapter, and hurt, is closed for them as well.”