Colorado State of the Judiciary: “lean and efficient” courts or “Judicial Hellhole?”
Newly appointed Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Bender (who was retained in office by the most narrow margin in Colorado history for an incumbent state supreme court justice along with his colleague, and ideological ally, Alex Martinez) delivered his first “State of the Judiciary” address before a joint session of the Colorado General Assembly on Friday, 11 January.
(Highlights and full text of the address were published Monday (14 January) by Law Week Colorado, “Colo. Judicial Branch Lean, Efficient Says Chief Justice In State Of Judiciary Address“)
Unsurprisingly, Chief Justice Bender painted a rosy (and self-serving) picture of the state of Colorado’s judicial branch, touting the successes of some specialty courts (a veterans’ court in El Paso County, and a truancy court in Pueblo County) along with some personnel and administrative efficiencies achieved statewide. Bender even went so far as to claim credit for the judiciary having “helped balance the state budget” through various cost-cutting measures, and went on to claim that Colorado “continues to lead the nation in court technology applications” such as a new “statewide e-filing system for all cases” designed to increase efficiency and “yield additional revenue.” (Since when is “yielding additional revenue” a function of the courts?) Oh, and speaking of revenue – he was able to get in a plug for the new $258M judicial complex financed by a combination of debt (er, “not-debt”) and new “fees.”
Although the listed accomplishments are laudable achievements, they amount to somewhat superficial marginalia – not quite as trivial as tinkering with the deck chairs on the Titanic, but rather missing the point on the primary function of the courts: upholding the rule of law.
A more accurate assessment of the actual state of Colorado’s judiciary in that regard was contained in the American Tort Reform Association’s annual “Judicial Hellholes” report for 2010, released just last month. The report lists Colorado as one of only three state supreme courts nationwide to qualify for the dubious “honor” of being declared a “judicial hellhole” (Colorado joins Michigan and perennial favorite West Virginia in being so recognized).
“Traditionally, Judicial Hellholes have been considered places where civil judges systematically apply laws and court procedures in an unfair and unbalanced manner, generally against defendants in civil lawsuits,” explains ATRA general counsel Victor Schwartz. “The jurisdictions we name as Judicial Hellholes each year are not the only unfair courts in the nation, but they are among the most unfair, based on our survey of litigants and considerable independent research.”
Actions speak louder than words; and although Bender’s speech gives lip service to the primacy of the rule of law, his actions on the bench have demonstrated the opposite. Indeed, Bender has been one of the most egregious perpetrators of putting personal views (his own) above the letter of the law.
The hypocrisy is stunning. Justice Bender opened his remarks with reference to our 2nd President:
As John Adams, one of our founding fathers, said we are a government of laws, not men.
“. . . that a form of government which unites all virtue . . . in a reverence and obedience to the laws, is the only one in which liberty can be secure, and all orders and ranks compelled to prefer the public good before their own; that is the government for which we plead.”
Adams’ point rings true today — to have a government that secures liberty and freedom, all branches of the government must be obedient to the law.
Yes, Justice Bender; ALL branches of the government.
To paraphrase another great president, “I knew John Adams… John Adams is my great-great-great-something grandfather [Ed. on my mother's side; true fact] and you’re no John Adams.”
Have you no shame, sir?
Such contrast between rhetoric and reality; the true “State of the Judiciary” in Colorado.
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. (Perhaps not coincidentally, Justice Bender sits on the board of one of the defendant groups). 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.