The Hon. Nikea Bland ('05) is a district court judge in Colorado's 2nd Judicial District. Prior to her appointment to the bench by Gov. Polis in January 2020, Bland was a senior associate at O'Malley and Sawyer, LLC, where her practice consisted of criminal defense and dependency and neglect matters.
What drives your commitment to public service work?
I have always wanted a career where I felt I could work to improve the lives of others through my work. Prior to attending law school, I wanted to be a social worker, and I interned with various social work agencies in Richmond, Virginia, when I attended the University of Richmond. The experience that resonated with me the most was working for a nonprofit transitional housing program for homeless women and children. From the women in my program, I learned what it means to be resilient. No matter what their circumstance, these women kept fighting for themselves and their children, and worked hard to improve their lives.
That experience informed my work as a public defender and a defense attorney in the criminal justice system. My work taught me that that the cyclical nature of poverty, lack of economic resources stability, and mental health contribute most to people making bad decisions that lead to their involvement in the criminal justice system. As a judge, I remain committed to improving the lives of others and serving my community. My previous clients and my background have taught me lessons that I hope to continue to incorporate into my philosophy on the bench.
Did you always envision a career in criminal defense, and now as a judge?
In a word—no. I had not contemplated attending law school until I had my first position as a counselor after I graduated from college. When I moved to Denver, I began working at a group home for male juveniles who were committed after being adjudicated delinquent. Part of my responsibilities included transporting the kids to court hearings. That was my first introduction to the justice system and sparked my desire to be a criminal defense attorney. One of the things that struck me was the kids did not understand what was happening in their court proceedings. As an attorney and now as a judge, I want to ensure that everyone understands the proceedings so they can be empowered to make the best decisions for their future. My desire to be a judge was sparked by other judicial officers encouraging me to explore the position. While I was initially reluctant, I realized that my voice would be a beneficial addition, not only for the other members of the bench, but, more significantly, for the people in my community because of my past experiences working with undervalued members of society.
What do you enjoy most about your job on the bench of the 2nd Judicial District?
Right now, I have a criminal docket. I enjoy interacting with the public and the accused who are brought before me in court. I like the fact that no two days and no two cases are ever the same, and it is my job to ensure the fairness of the proceedings for everyone. I like that I get to use my interpersonal communication skills as much as my knowledge of the law.
What is your proudest achievement?
Attaining my judicial appointment while simultaneously raising a family with two small children is my proudest accomplishment.
What would you tell Colorado Law students and recent alumni interested in pursuing a career in public interest law?
I would encourage everyone to serve. I understand the financial ramifications of choosing a public interest career may not be sustainable forever, but I believe that it will only enhance your practice and make you a better-rounded attorney and individual. These jobs are hard work, and we may not always be appreciated, but when we are and you feel that you have made someone’s life better, there is nothing more meaningful and worthwhile.