Judicial Performance Review Commission charged with bias
In a development which should come as no shock to astute observers of Colorado’s “judicial merit selection and retention” system, the state’s 10th Judicial District performance review commission has been charged with bias in conducting “reviews” of judges in the district, as reported in a Pueblo Chieftain newspaper article (“Officials stand behind performance commission“) earlier this week.
Also unsurprisingly, as reported in the same story,
The powerful entities atop state government that appointed members of the 10th Judicial District judicial performance commission are standing behind their appointees…
Who are the “powerful entities” in question?
House Speaker Terrance Carroll, D-Denver, appointed Karn. Outgoing Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Mary Mullarkey appointed Naranjo and Esquibel. Senate President Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, appointed Vigil.
The 10th Judicial Commission members in question – all Democrats, appointed by Democrats (including Mullarkey) voted to recommend against retention for Judge Jill Mattoon (a Republican, although appointed by Democrat Governor Bill Ritter – who has actually appointed several good judges).
Although it is possible that “There is no reason to believe that this recommendation was the result of anything but the conscientious work and sound judgment of the commission as a whole,” there is conversely no reason not to believe otherwise. Without evidence either way, it’s a matter of dueling opinions.
Since the deliberations of the commission, and basis for their recommendation, are not transparent to the public, suspicions of partisan or institutional bias (in addition to being Democrats, the commissioners in question “have or have had ties to the public defender’s office and another is a criminal defense lawyer”) have been raised by numerous individuals – including Judge Mattoon herself (who, incidentally, was retained in office).
Overall, the “judicial performance review commissions” (at both the district and state level) demonstrate a consistent ‘pro-incumbent’ (pro-“retain”) bias; over the entire history of the existence of the “review” commissions, only 16 judges have EVER been recommended for a “do not retain” vote (that’s an endorsement of over 99% for judicial incumbents), ALL at the district level or below. At the state level, the commission has recommended to “retain” the incumbent every single time they’ve issued a review (a 100% “retain” recommendation that would make even Fidel Castro or Saddam Hussein envious).
Allegations of bias have been raised in nearly every instance in which the commissions have issued a “do not retain” recommendation.
The main problem with the judicial performance review commissions is a lack of transparency and accountability along with a lack of substantive, documented evaluation. Voters are simply urged to accept at face value whatever recommendations the commissions put forth, without any insight into the process or possible bias of any commissioners (indeed, most often lacking any substantive information whatsoever on which to base an informed decision).
Clear The Bench Colorado has long been critical of the lack of substantive information provided by the “Judicial Performance Review” commissions (c.f. Accountability, Transparency apply to the Colorado Supreme Court, too) as have other independent analysts (for example, this article published by the Denver Post, “Evaluating the performance of justices“, back in February).
Colorado Citizens deserve better. Most importantly, Clear The Bench Colorado agrees with critics of the commission “reviews” (see “Judging Colorado’s Supreme Court justices” letter to the editor) that voters need “relevant, substantive and vigorous information” – based on “the written decisions of the court” – in order to make an informed decision on whether to retain, or NOT to retain, judges (at all levels) on the ballot.
Perhaps it’s time for the legislature – or citizen initiative – to address much-needed system reform in our judiciary.
The fight to reform Colorado’s corrupt legal/judicial complex continues. 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 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.