Mid-month Media Review: Colorado Supreme Court, judicial retention elections, and Clear The Bench Colorado in the news

Clear The Bench Colorado and this year’s Colorado judicial retention elections – along with the subsequent selection of Justice Michael Bender (who was retained in office with the lowest percentage approval in state history) as the next Chief Justice of the Colorado Supreme Court – continue to garner significant media coverage in the weeks following this year’s historic elections.

Numerous articles across the country continue to weigh in on the subject of judicial retention elections in general, with mention of the successful effort to oust incumbent state supreme court justices in Iowa and coverage of other statewide efforts which fell short (including our neighbor to the east, Kansas, and of course in Colorado).

Many of the articles note that this year’s judicial retention elections may be the harbinger of a real paradigm shift in how the public views judges on the ballot, with a growing movement to hold judges – particularly the more politicized and politically-active state supreme court justices – accountable.

Clear The Bench Colorado noted several of the relevant articles in our Post-Election Media Review post just after the elections, and in our last week’s post (“A New Era for Judicial Retention Elections?“) and most recently “A Tale of Three States” (comparing the judicial retention elections and outcomes in Iowa, Kansas, and Colorado) last Friday.

Judicial retention elections this year may well have been the most significant underreported political story of the year, with opposition and accountability efforts mounted in more states than ever before – which has some defenders of the status quo legal establishment worried.

A recent article published in The Palm Beach Post News (“Florida judges may be on political hot seat“) profiled the campaign to unseat two Florida Supreme Court justices against the backdrop of similar efforts nationwide:

Using e-mails, websites and YouTube videos, conservative groups waged a stealth campaign against Florida Supreme Court Justices Jorge Labarga and James Perry.

And some legal watchers are worried.

Among the “worried” legal watchers quoted in the article: former Colorado Supreme Court justice Rebecca Love Kourlis (executive director of the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System, IAALS, which is the subject of a campaign finance complaint for their electioneering activities in support of Colorado’s incumbent justices this year).

“I think we’re going to see it more and more,” she said. “Retention elections around the country are becoming the new battleground.”

Colorado Supreme Court Goes on a ‘Bender’

The other significant news in the aftermath of this year’s judicial retention elections was the selection of Justice Michael Bender as the next Chief Justice of the Colorado Supreme Court.

As previously noted, Justice Bender – a close political ally and ideological inheritor of the mantle of outgoing Chief Justice Mary Mullarkey, who resigned rather than face the voters this year – retained his office by the narrowest margin in Colorado history for an incumbent state supreme court justice (along with his colleague, and ideological ally, Alex Martinez) less than a week earlier.  His retention in office was supported by an organization (the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System, IAALS) in which he sits on the board (potentially violating the judicial code of conduct); the group is also the defendant in a pending campaign finance law violation case, which the group’s attorneys recently obtained a delay in bringing to a hearing (originally set for 12 November 2010).

Numerous media outlets around the state noted the selection of Bender for the Chief Justice slot with varying degrees of detail, including:

An interesting addition to the list of mainstream media outlets commenting on the appointment was the left-wing political gossip site Colorado Pols.  Normally I wouldn’t credit this collection of closed-minded chatty-kathies (literally; outside comments on the gossipy back-and-forth snark that passes as political discussion on the site are not allowed) with a link, but the insight provided by their reaction to the news (and partisan spin on it) along with their take on the significance of Bender’s appointment for the upcoming legislative reapportionment and Congressional redistricting battles (the Pols consensus view, with which I agree, is that it bodes VERY well for their side) is illuminating.

Stay tuned for more on that subject…

Although this year’s campaign (and election) is over, the fight to reform Colorado’s out-of-control legal/judicial complex continues.  In the near term, Clear The Bench Colorado is working to hold the consortium of legal-establishment special-interest groups who attempted (and may have succeeded in) buying the election for their buddies on the bench accountable for their violations of Colorado campaign finance law.  Longer term, Clear The Bench Colorado will work with legislators and others interested in reforming the systemic shortcomings of Colorado’s “merit selection & retention” system to increase transparency and accountability to the public.  For both of those endeavors, we would appreciate your continued support – via your comments (Sound Off!) and, yes, your contributions. Freedom isn’t free –nor is it always easy to be a Citizen, not a subject.

Ultimately, though – it’s worth the effort.

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