Polis names Judge Don Toussaint to 18th Judicial District bench — the first Black judge in nearly a decade

Gov. Jared Polis on Wednesday ended a nearly decade-long absence of a person of color wearing the robes of a district court judge in the 18th Judicial District that includes Arapahoe and Douglas counties.

With the appointment of Arapahoe County Court Judge Don Toussaint, Polis named the first Black jurist to that district court bench since Judge Robert Russell II retired in 2012 and Judge Vincent White retired in 2010. Toussaint, who is of Haitian descent and is replacing retiring District Judge John Wheeler, said he was humbled to follow in their footsteps, though concerned the gap was so long in being filled.

“I’m happy it’s over. When I was in county court, I can almost see a sense, a vibe, that a defendant notices it’s someone different on the bench than everyone around them, that maybe they’ll hear them out,” said Toussaint, a county court judge for 20 months and previously a magistrate for 18 months. “I make a point of doing that, to hear them out.”

He was also a member of the Aurora city attorney’s office for about five years following a stint in private practice. Toussaint graduated from the University of Denver Sturm College of Law in 2009 after a career at Great West. He grew up in Newark, N.J., is married and has two children.

The appointment comes after The Denver Post in July revealed how the state’s district court benches, prosecutor offices, and public defenders lack diversity and poorly reflect the communities they serve. Denver County Court Judge Gary Jackson, an outspoken proponent of judicial diversity, said Polis’ appointment was long in coming and said more needs to be done.

“It is an embarrassment to the Black citizens of Arapahoe County, the county with the highest Black population in the state,” Jackson told The Post on Wednesday. “Yet, when you get a divorce, go through a probate matter or have a personal injury trial over a traffic accident, there are only white faces who are making the decisions on Black people’s lives. This absence of diversity causes a lack of trust in the judiciary.”

Jackson noted that since The Post stories, judicial nominating commissions in some districts have been taking notice. In Denver, for instance, the 2nd Judicial Nominating Commission recently sent a slate of six nominees to fill two vacancies — three of them attorneys of color. The judges who are retiring are white men.

“It’s making a difference,” Jackson said.

Polis said he was confident Toussaint will serve the higher court as ably as he did Arapahoe County.

“We have more work to do to ensure Colorado’s courts are  presided over by talented, fair judges as diverse as the communities they serve,” Polis said.

David Migoya: [email protected]; (303) 954-1506; @davidmigoya.

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