Gov. Jared Polis appoints Maria Berkenkotter to be Colorado Supreme Court justice

With the retirement of Chief Justice Coats, the state’s highest court will comprise only justices appointed by Democratic governors

A photo of the Colorado Supreme Court on July 2, 2020. (Quentin Young/Colorado Newsline)

Gov. Jared Polis on Friday appointed Judge Maria Berkenkotter to be the newest Supreme Court justice to serve on the state’s highest court. 

“Throughout her career, she has shown a keen ability to render sound and wise decisions on a broad range of issues,” Polis said, in a statement. “She has deftly presided over high-profile, complicated, and often emotional cases, and has implemented beneficial operational changes within the Judicial Branch.”

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The vacancy was created by the retirement of the Chief Justice Nathan B. Coats, effective Jan. 1, 2021. Coats was appointed in April 2000 by then-Gov. Bill Owens and has served as the court’s chief justice since 2018.

The appointment of Berkenkotter is the first Supreme Court nomination for Polis — the remaining justices were appointed by Gov. John Hickenlooper and Gov. Bill Ritter, both Democrats. The state’s highest court is composed of seven justices who serve 10-year terms.

“It has been an honor to serve Colorado on the Supreme Court for 20 years,” Coats said in a statement. “During these unprecedented times, our court’s purpose to uphold the Colorado Constitution has taken on new meaning, and I know that Judge Berkenkotter will treat this duty with the deliberation and care that she has shown throughout her career.”

A former judge, Berkenkotter was appointed to the Boulder District Court in July 2006 and was appointed in 2013 as chief judge of the 20th Judicial District, which encompasses Boulder County. Since 2018, Berkenkotter has worked with the Judicial Arbiter Group, which provides mediation and arbitration services. She was a finalist for a Supreme Court justice seat in 2018.

Her prior experience includes running the Antitrust, Consumer Protection and Tobacco Litigation units of the Colorado attorney general’s office. Before joining the attorney general’s office in 1990, Berkenkotter was in private practice at Holmes & Starr P.C. in Denver. She clerked for Justice Howard M. Kirshbaum of the Colorado Supreme Court after graduating from the University of Denver Law School in 1987.

“I’m honored to be selected by Governor Polis for this important position,” Berkenkotter said in a statement. “It is essential for the foundations of our democracy, including our courts, to remain strong during these unprecedented times.”

With the departure of Coats, current Justice Brian Boatright will become the new chief justice. The chief justice serves as the executive head of the Colorado judicial system, ex-officio chair of the Supreme Court Nominating Commission, and appoints chief judges to the Court of Appeals and each of the state’s 22 judicial districts.

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