Colorado judges seeking retention in office 2012
This week, the Colorado Office of Judicial Performance Evaluation (COJPE) released the names of those Colorado judges seeking to be retained in office (subject to voter approval) in 2012.
This year, the number of those judges seeking voter approval for another term (10, 8, 6, or 4 years depending on the level of court) is down slightly from last year. Colorado judges seeking retention in 2012 (appearing on the November general election ballot with a “Yes” or “No” vote option) are:
- 1 Supreme Court Justice
- 6 Court of Appeals judges
- 83 District & County judges
The Colorado Office of Judicial Performance Evaluation (COJPE) simultaneously published the “judicial performance evaluations” (based predominantly on surveys of attorneys and other parties appearing before each judge). As usual, almost all of the judges “evaluated” received a “Retain” recommendation from the respective review commission (the single exception being a county judge in El Paso County,
4th Judicial District – who was given a “Do Not Retain” recommendation based on “Demeanor”).
Unfortunately, the survey methodology employed by the Colorado Office of Judicial Performance Evaluation and the resultant 5-paragraph “Judicial Performance Review” narratives fail to provide substantive information on which to base an informed decision on “should they stay or should they go.” (See: Evaluating the Performance of Justices, Denver Post Guest Commentary by former State Judicial Performance Commissioner William M. Banta, for a critique of JPE relevance and effectiveness)
For example, in the case of the single judge receiving a “Do Not Retain” recommendation this year, based predominantly on attorney responses to surveys: was the judge’s courtroom “demeanor” truly disrespectful and lacking in neutrality, or is she a “no-nonsense judge who follows the letter of the law… [who acts to] incarcerate dangerous drunk drivers for the protection of the public”? Are the “surveys” reliable, or the result of manipulation by disgruntled attorneys? Unfortunately, it’s difficult to tell from the data presented in the “judicial performance review” narratives.
Colorado voters deserve better – a broader, more substantive evaluation based on “relevant, substantive and vigorous information” about how (and whether) the judge upholds the rule of law.
Most importantly, Colorado voters should receive information from a variety of truly independent sources. The quasi-official, government-appointed Commissions on Judicial Performance Evaluation are inherently prone to political bias, conflicts of interest (attorneys practicing before the very judges they “evaluate”) and groupthink. Most dangerously, in publishing and distributing (at taxpayer expense) a “recommendation” on judicial retention, these commissions represent the government telling the public how to vote on another branch of government – completely undermining the independent accountability mechanism at the heart of Colorado’s “merit selection & retention” system for the courts.
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.
Ultimately, though – it’s worth the effort.