Merry Monday Media Review: Clear The Bench Colorado, Colorado Supreme Court in the news
Clear The Bench Colorado continues to make news (except in the pages of the Denver Post, which apparently continues its editorial policy of suppressing information that might upset its highest-paying – $1.6M/year – tenants) around the state in the aftermath of this year’s judicial retention elections (which gained attention not just in Colorado – again, largely excepting the Post – but in national news reports).
The big news for CTBC – and of course from our perspective the most welcome news – was last week’s confirmation by Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Robert Spencer that “Colorado Ethics Watch” (CEW, pronounced “sue” – it’s what they do) was ordered to pay Clear The Bench Colorado over $13,000 in legal fees stemming from their “substantially groundless and frivolous” campaign finance complaint against CTBC (originally filed in May 2010).
The story was first reported online in Law Week Colorado (a generally reliable observer and source of information regarding the Colorado legal-judicial scene) on 15 December (“Ethics Watch Must Pay Attorney Fees In Clear The Bench Case“). The Law Week article summarizes the judgement, provides some background on the complaint, and provides the full text of the ALJ ruling ordering CEW to pay Clear The Bench Colorado.
Also covering the story on 15 December was leading Colorado political online news outlet Face The State (publishing within an hour or so of the Law Week article). The Face The State article (“Self-styled ethics watchdog slapped with the tab for its legal attack“) adds context and background information on CEW, CEW’s complaints, and CEW’s history of filing harassment claims (along with a copy of the judge’s order for Colorado Ethics Watch to pay Clear The Bench Colorado’s legal fees in pdf format).
Picking up the story on Friday, Denver’s alternative weekly Westword (often a source of excellent investigative journalism) covered the issue in a bit more depth (landing some quotes from the loser, CEW’s Luis Toro): “Colorado Ethics Watch told to pay Clear the Bench Colorado $13,000 in legal fees.” CEW signaled their intent to “keep on doing what we’re doing” despite the legal rebuke. (Surprise!)
Other news coverage of Clear The Bench Colorado concerns the ongoing campaign finance complaint against the legal-establishment special-interest consortium behind the “Know Your Judge” Campaign in support of Colorado’s judicial incumbents in this year’s retention elections. Again, Face The State was on top of the story noting that former Colorado Speaker of the House Terrance Carroll (D-Denver) is on the legal team “defending a consortium of legal groups accused of violating state campaign laws.” The article (“Your witness, Mr. Speaker“) notes that the “Know Your Judge” Campaign (consisting of nonprofit groups The League of Women Voters, the Colorado Bar Association, the Colorado Judicial Institute, and the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System) may have “illegally campaigned for the justices’ retention by not filing with the state as a political committee.”
At the heart of the complaint was a website funded by the groups called Know Your Judge, which led visitors to information explicitly recommending retention. They also paid for radio and television advertisements.
As detailed earlier by Face the State, if the complaint is upheld, a judge can levy fines of $50 per day for late reporting, plus a fine of between $170,000 and $425,000.
If successful (the case has now been set for hearing on 23 February 2010, thanks to delays generated by a barrage of legal maneuvering by the former Speaker’s “politically connected” law firm team from Greenberg Traurig) the combined fines and penalties would represent the largest adjudicated Campaign Finance Law violations in the history of Colorado.
In Other News…
The big news about the Colorado Supreme Court was the accession of the newest justice, Monica Marquez, to replace outgoing Chief Justice Mary Mullarkey (who wasn’t voted out, but chose to resign before facing the voters in this year’s retention elections). While the accession of a new justice to the Colorado Supreme Court is certainly newsworthy, the number of news stories referencing the ethnicity and sexual orientation of the Colorado Supreme Court’s newest justice – a matter which should be of supreme indifference in assessing judicial qualifications, character, temperament, and performance – continues to be astounding.
From the Denver Post’s article (“Colorado Supreme Court milestone a family affair“) - which at least has the good taste to lead first with the human-interest family connection before bringing up her ethnicity and sexual orientation – to a veritable plethora of blogs, journals, and other media – the phrase “Marquez is the first Latina and the first openly gay jurist on the state’s high court” comes up again and again. A representative sample:
- “Colorado has new Supreme Court Justice“, KWGN TV2
- “Lesbian justice seated at state Supreme Court“, Pueblo Chieftain
- “Newest Colorado Supreme Court justice’s milestone a family affair“, Boulder Lesbian blog (copied the Denver Post story in its entirety; interesting to see if that triggers the Post’s copy-protection policy – if not, good ammunition for a selective enforcement defense against future Post lawsuits)
- “First Latina, Openly Gay Colorado Supreme Court Justice“, Fox News Latino
- “All in the Family: First Latina and Openly Lesbian Judge of Supreme Court, Colorado“, Lez Get Real blog
- “Colo.’s new state Supreme Court justice sworn in“, Aurora Sentinel
- “Marquez Sworn In as First Latina/Gay Judge“, South Florida Gay News
…and a host of other niche publications (I got tired of counting after the first half-dozen or so).
One of these days it would be nice to focus on a jurist’s qualifications and performance rather than the distractions of ethnicity and sexual orientation.
As far as CTBC is concerned the jury is still out on Justice Marquez’s performance, although we remain skeptical that she was the most-qualified of the potential picks, and continue to harbor concerns about her background in advocating for several unconstitutional rulings in the past few years. She deserves – and should get – a fair review with careful scrutiny given her track record (as an attorney; she’s never before been a judge) and circumstances of her selection to the state’s highest court.
Fortunately, voters will have the opportunity to render judgement on Justice Marquez’ performance in two short years, as she comes up for a retention vote in November 2012.
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.