Finalists for Colorado Supreme Court vacancy announced: Boatright, Martinez, or O’Rourke will be next Colorado ‘Supreme’

Announced with much less fanfare Thursday (a short article buried in the Denver Post, “Finalists named for Colorado Supreme Court” and in the Denver Business Journal online, “3 finalists named for Colorado Supreme Court seat“) than last year’s front-page article announcing the finalists to replace outgoing Chief Justice Mary Mullarkey (”Three finalists emerge for Colorado Supreme Court vacancy“), the names and applications of the finalists to replace outgoing Justice Alex Martinez, resigning to take a “city job” as Denver Manager of Safety, were released to the public.

The selection of three finalists by the Colorado Supreme Court Nominating Commission after reviewing applications and interviewing candidates over the last couple of weeks represents the sole “check” or “balance” to the power of the governor to select and appoint judges in our state (unlike the system for appointing federal judges, there is no “advise & consent” function exercised by the state legislature).

(Click here to know more about how individuals are selected & appointed to judicial office in Colorado)

Under the Colorado Constitution, Article VI (Judiciary), Section 20, the governor has 15 days from the announcement of the commission’s nominees (so, until 28 October) to pick one of the three, or the Chief Justice (Michael Bender) makes the pick:

If the governor shall fail to make the appointment (or all of the appointments in case of multiple vacancies) from such list within fifteen days from the day it is submitted to him, the appointment (or the remaining appointments in case of multiple vacancies) shall be made by the chief justice of the supreme court from the same list within the next fifteen days.

Last year, to his credit, former Governor Bill Ritter solicited public input on the three nominees to become the next Colorado Supreme Court justice (soliciting E-mails to judicial.appointments@state.co.us with your comments, concerns, or suggestions); it remains to be seen if Governor Hickenlooper will seek the same level of public participation before he (on 21 October) and Lt. Governor Garcia (on 24 October) interviews the nominees in person.

So who are the three nominees?

Until recently, the most information available to the public would have been the names of the finalists – a situation lacking in the transparency and accountability the public has every right to expect in relation to holding public office.  Clear The Bench Colorado has been among the leaders calling for reform in the judicial selection and nomination process (”No More Secrecy in Colorado Supreme Court judicial hiring“), as noted in last year’s Denver Post article on replacing Mullarkey:

These are people who are auditioning to become government employees occupying some of the highest offices in the state about which there is no knowledge or public input or transparency or accountability,” Arnold said. “I would certainly urge the legislature to take a look at this…

For only the second time in state history, additional information on the nominees (including the public portion of their applications) is available to the public for review.  Law Week Colorado has again made the applications available for view (“State Releases Applications Of Finalists For Colorado’s High Court“).

In alphabetical order, the nominees for the next Colorado Supreme Court justice are:

  • Brian Boatright, a Jefferson County District Court Judge, from Arvada
    (Work address/phone:  100 Jefferson County Parkway, Golden CO 80031/(303) 271-6433)
  • Frederick Martinez, an attorney with Hall & Evans, from Castle Pines
    (Work address/phone: 1125 17th Street, Suite 600, Denver CO 80202/(303) 628-3302)
  • Patrick O’Rourke, chief litigation attorney for the University of Colorado, from Highlands Ranch
    (Work address/phone: 1800 Grant Street, Suite 800, Denver CO 80203/(303) 860-5691)

Interestingly, only one of the nominees (Judge Boatright) has any experience in judicial office, as a District Court judge in Jefferson County (1st Judicial District).  (In comparison, the nominees to replace outgoing Chief Justice Mary Mullarkey, who quit rather than be held accountable by Colorado voters, included an Appeals Court judge, a District Court judge, and an assistant Attorney General).  Attorney Frederick Martinez has worked on the Office of Attorney Regulation Council (the arm of the Colorado Supreme Court responsible for reviewing ethics complaints and charges against attorneys) and as a public defender, in addition to general litigation.  Attorney Patrick O’Rourke has been the chief litigator for the University of Colorado, and has argued several high-profile cases such as Ward Churchill’s “1st Amendment retaliation” claims against CU (in district court) and the recent CU Gun Ban case (before the Colorado Supreme Court).  Former litigators would of course have to recuse themselves from any case (including appeals of those cases) they have represented.

Our view: Citizen participation in the judicial nominating process (at both the district and state levels) is essential to ensuring that good judges – who understand that their role is to fairly & impartially uphold and apply the law – are elevated to hold judicial office, instead of more politicians in black robes.

This is particularly important in selecting the next Colorado Supreme Court justices – who all too frequently have exercised unrestrained power in violation of constitutional limits on their authority.

Our judicial system depends more than any other branch of government on public trust and confidence that the law is being applied fairly and impartially for all citizens – that our supreme court justices are fulfilling their proper roles as referees upholding the rules rather than players attempting to score for their “team’s” agenda.

An informed citizenry and active citizen participation is vital in restoring accountability and transparency to the 3rd branch of state government, the judiciary – most particularly for the Colorado Supreme Court.

Clear The Bench Colorado will, with your support, continue to promote transparency and accountability in the Colorado judiciary, informing the public to increase awareness of the substantial public policy implications of an unrestrained activism and political agendas in the courts.  We will continue to work to educate voters and provide information of relevance related to the judicial branch, and to provide useful and substantive evaluations of judicial performance.

However, we can’t do it alone –  we need 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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