Colorado Supreme Court, Court of Appeals move into palatial new digs at the Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center
The Colorado Supreme Court and Colorado Court of Appeals take up residence in a brand-new, multi-million dollar facility a block away from the Colorado Capitol today (Wednesday, 19 December 2012) –
a mere two days before the “end of the world” supposedly “predicted” by the Mayan calendar.
The new “Judicial Center” is an impressive edifice (as shown in the picture below and in a photo gallery, both published by the Denver Post last week).
The demolition of the old court building in August 2010 was heralded by the Denver Post with another impressive front-page photo under the headline, “Make Room for Justice!” along with a story inside (“Denver & The West” section – Colorado judicial building puts on show, disappears). Interestingly, although the Post article noted the cost of the demolition ($850,000) it completely failed to mention the cost of the replacement “judicial complex” (possibly out of concern for the sensibilities of the Post’s largest paying tenant – the Colorado Supreme Court paid the Denver Newspaper Agency $1.6 Million per year over the last three years for their temporary ‘digs’ while the new complex was being built).
Interestingly, almost every other contemporary news report DID mention the cost to taxpayers
“Make Room for Justice” or “Justice Held For Ransom?”
Unfortunately, NONE of the news coverage provided any information on just where all of this money to fund the massive new “judicial complex” came from (ultimately, of course, from your pockets – but the details are interesting).
Part of the funding for the project (authorized back during the 2008 legislative session under SB08-206 State Justice Center) came from an unprecedented expansion in use of “Certificates of Participation” (in the words of a state legislator who shall remain nameless, “debt pretending not to be debt”). In fact, the legislative language specifies that the debt is simply re-defined as ‘not-debt’ by declaring that
the obligations shall not be deemed or construed as creating an indebtedness of the state within the meaning of any provision of the state constitution or the laws of the state of Colorado concerning or limiting the creation of indebtedness by the state of Colorado and shall not constitute a multiple fiscal-year direct or indirect debt or other financial obligation of the state within the meaning of section 20 (4) of article X of the state constitution. [SB08-206, Section 2, (2) (b), page 5]
Former Colorado Treasurer Cary Kennedy was so proud of the ‘not-debt’ incurred to finance the construction of the new judicial complex (and new state history museum) that she trumpeted the great ‘success’ in a press release:
The successful financing of over $338 million in Certificates of Participation earlier today to build the new Colorado History Center and the Ralph L. Carr Justice Complex completed one of the largest sales of Build America Bonds to date, announced State Treasurer Cary Kennedy
“Crazy on Court Fees”
However, by far the greatest proportion of funding for the new judicial complex comes in the form of increasing the cost of access to justice by Colorado citizens due to substantial increases (including the creation of an entirely new category – the “Justice Center Fund” fee) in court fees.
Want to file a case in civil court, defend yourself against a claim, petition to change your name, or request a civil protection order? It’ll cost you an extra $37 for the “Justice Center Fund” – per filing. Small claims court filings? An extra $11 for the “Justice Center Fund”, thank you.
Oh, and that’s just in your local county court – which may be hundreds of miles away from the recently completed “Mullarkey Monument” (actually, even the legislature reportedly balked at naming the center after Mullarkey when some legislators dug in their heels and insisted upon another name; honoring former Republican Governor Ralph L. Carr – truly, a principled politician – but naming the center after him is a rather ironic twist). Need access to justice at the District Court level or higher? Be prepared to cough up even more in “fees” for the ”Justice Center Fund” – most actions in District Court now cost an additional $68 for the fund, some as much as another $136 or even $204 each, at any of the various District Courts (22 in all) across Colorado, still miles from the as-yet unbuilt Colorado Judicial Complex.
Even “domestic relations” cases across the state are now more expensive thanks to the ”Justice Center Fund” fees – legal separation, annulment, divorce will each cost another $26; child custody registration or child support order, another $15 just for financing the construction of the massive new judicial complex.
Death in the family? That’ll cost you extra, too – another $15 ”Justice Center Fund” fee for probate filings, estate fees, conservatorship, etc. etc. Anywhere in the state – all of Colorado now enjoys the privilege of contributing to this marvelous new edifice.
Even an “insufficient funds” return check fee for court payments (already $40, which is double what any private entity is allowed to charge) gets another $10 fee tacked on for the ”Justice Center Fund” (truly, adding insult to injury).
Need to fight a case up to a higher court? Pretty much ANY actions at the Colorado Court of Appeals now costs an additional $68 fee for that ”Justice Center Fund.” Water Court? Same story – almost every activity listed incurs an additional $68 for the ”Justice Center Fund” (some activities, such as applying for Change of Water Right or Plan for Augmentation, cost double – $136).
Ironically, the ONLY court where you WON’T have to pay an extra ”Justice Center Fund” fee to pursue justice? You guessed it – the Colorado Supreme Court, who’s “home” is being financed by all these “fees” in the first place.
It has been said that “if you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.” Since “fees” are only supposed to be charged to offset the cost of providing or administering a voluntarily accessed good or service, the proliferation of new “fees” to finance the construction of palatial new digs for the Colorado Supreme Court – holding the administration of justice at county and District courts across the state hostage to this massive new monument to judicial supremacy – is questionable at best, particularly at a time when state resources are already strained and Colorado Citizens are being forced to cut back on personal spending. Aren’t we supposed to be asked before the government in Colorado can take more of our hard-earned dollars? Perhaps that’s why the Colorado Supreme Court’s majority decision in the 2008 Barber v. Ritter “Fees aren’t really taxes” case – expanding the use of “fees” by government entities across the state as a means of evading constitutional protections against tax increases – carries the taint of self-interest.
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.