On February 22, 2023, President Joe Biden nominated Judge Kato Crews for the United States District Court for the District of Colorado. Judge Crews currently serves as a U.S. magistrate judge for the District of Colorado, a role he has held since 2018. Previously, Judge Crews worked in private practice at Rothgerber Johnson & Lyons LLP and founded Hoffman Crews Nies Waggener & Foster LLP, a firm focused on civil litigation and employment law.
Judge Crews was born in Pueblo, Colorado in 1975. He earned his bachelor’s degree in 1997 from the University of Northern Colorado and his J.D. from the University of Arizona in 2000.
Judge Crews began his legal career in August 2000 as an attorney with the U.S. National Labor Relations Board in Denver, Colorado. He was responsible for enforcing the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), including investigating and prosecuting unfair labor practices and conducting union-representation elections. A significant amount of his work included investigating employers for violating employees’ rights to form or join a union or engage in other concerted activities for their mutual aid or protection.
In September 2001, Judge Crews transitioned into private practice as an associate and eventually a partner at Rothgerber, Johnson, & Lyons LLP. While at the firm, he worked on labor and employment law cases where he primarily represented employers and occasionally represented unions and employees in both state and federal court. For example, Judge Crews represented the Pikes Peak Musicians Association in Peters v. Pikes Peak Musicians Association, 462 F.3d 1265 (10th Cir. 2006), an appeal to the Tenth Circuit in which the employer contested the payment of its musicians’ wages and benefits under a collective bargaining agreement after the employer declared bankruptcy. In that case, the union was successful on appeal and the wages and benefits were considered priority expenses under the Bankruptcy Code.
In 2011, Judge Crews left Rothgerber and started practicing in a smaller firm, Mastin, Hoffman & Crews LLC. He continued to practice labor and employment law, representing non-profits, small business, large corporations, and employees. For example, from 2015 to 2017, Judge Crews represented Colorado State University in Smith v. Board of Governors of the Colorado State University System. In that case, he represented the University against a former campus police officer who brought Title VII charges in which he claimed that he suffered from a hostile work environment and harassment motivated by race. Judge Crews successfully defeated the plaintiff’s claims at the summary judgment stage. While at Mastin, Hoffman, & Crews LLC, Judge Crews also had a robust probate practice, in which he represented estates, personal representatives and estate beneficiaries.
In 2018, Judge Crews was selected to serve as a United States Magistrate Judge for the United States District Court for the District of Colorado. The following cases are illustrative of Judge Crews’ judicial career.
In United States v. Zamorano, the defendant was charged with possession and intent to distribute methamphetamine under federal law. Judge Crews presided over her pretrial detention hearing in which the defendant brought motion to reconsider and sought release for, among other reasons, on account of the COVID-19 pandemic. Judge Crews denied her motion, finding that the defendant had not produced any new evidence and that her potential for COVID-19 exposure while detained was an insufficient basis for her release. A district judge affirmed Judge Crews’ ruling.
In Brooks v. Colorado Department of Corrections, Mr. Brooks, an individual who is incarcerated at the Colorado Department of Corrections, suffered from ulcerative colitis. To accommodate his disability, he requested a specific meal or movement pass in order to access the cafeteria outside his scheduled mealtimes. Mr. Brooks sued the defendant, claiming that their failure to accommodate his disability violated Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and sought compensatory damages. Judge Crews presided over the case in its entirety, including a five-day jury trial and pretrial motions. The jury returned a verdict in Mr. Brooks’ favor and awarded him compensatory damages.
In Gonzalez v. Englewood Lock and Safe, Inc., No. l :20-cv-03686-SKC (D. Colo. Feb. 15, 2023), Ms. Gonzalez sued her employer under Title VII for sex discrimination, sexual harassment, retaliation, and constructive discharge. Judge Crews presided over the entirety of the case, including a two-day jury trial and all the pre-trial matters. Ms. Gonzalez represented herself and alleged that her employer constantly commented on her gender and that a supervisor touched her inappropriately and made sexually suggestive comments towards her. Judge Crews ruled for the defendant and dismissed Ms. Gonzalez’s claims for failure to meet her burden as a matter of law.
In Shields v. US. Postal Service, No. 1:16-cv-02517-SKC (D. Colo. Oct. 28, 2019), the plaintiff represented herself in her suit against her former employer, the United States Postal Service, for allegedly violating the Equal Pay Act. Judge Crews presided over the entirety of the case, including a half-day bench trial. At trial, the plaintiff called only the human resources manager, an adverse witness, and then rested her case. The plaintiff refused to testify on her own behalf, despite Judge Crews’ explanation that without her testimony, there would be very little evidence to support her claim. Judge Crews decided the case in the defendant’s favor, finding that there was not enough evidence to support the plaintiff’s claims.
Excessive Use of Force
In Scherbarth v. Woods et al., the plaintiff sued two police officers for excessive use of force after he allegedly suffered nerve damage, a concussion, and lacerations during an arrest for a nonviolent misdemeanor where he had not attempted to resist arrest or flee. Judge Crews denied the officers’ motion to decide the case in their favor on the grounds of qualified immunity, a theory that can allow agents of the government to circumvent liability in civil suits, because he believed a jury trial was necessary to determine certain material facts in the case. Judge Crews presided over a five-day jury trial. Based on the jury’s determinations, Judge Crews found that the police officers were entitled to qualified immunity and entered a judgement in their favor.
In Hutchison v. Walmart Inc., the plaintiff slipped on clear liquid and fell at a Walmart in Grand Junction Colorado. She suffered physical injuries as a result of the fall and sued Walmart for failing to reasonably protect her from danger, in violation of the Colorado Premises Liability Act and sought damages for potential lost wages. Judge Crews presided over the entirety of the case, including a five-day jury trial. The jury found for Walmart and Judge Crews dismissed the plaintiff’s charges.
Professional Activities and Accolades
Judge Crews has demonstrated a commitment to pro bono work, both on and off the bench. Within his first two years as a magistrate judge, Judge Crews founded the Federal Limited Appearance Program in conjunction with the Colorado Bar Association Young Lawyers Division, a volunteer program designed to provide pro se litigants with legal representation during certain non-dispositive court hearings. Additionally, Judge Crews is Chair of the U.S. District Court’s Pro Se Working Group, in which he investigates and considers how the court can best facilitate pro se access to the court and how pro se cases can be handled in the most efficient way possible. While in private practice, Judge Crews served on the Colorado Lawyer Trust Account Foundation Board of Directors, an organization that creates partnerships between the legal and banking communities to fund access to civil justice across the state. Additionally, as an attorney, Judge Crews had a robust pro bono practice, such as a case in which he assisted a South Korean immigrant in obtaining permanent residency in the United States.
Judge Crews has received recognition in Colorado for his litigation skills. He was selected by Superlawyers as a Colorado Rising Star in Employment and Labor from 2009-2015 and received similar recognition in 2016 and 2017 for his work in Employment and Labor and Business Litigation.