Colorado Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission names three finalists to succeed retiring Justice Gregory Hobbs

The Colorado Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission has named the three finalists to succeed retiring state supreme court justice Gregory Hobbs (his retirement is effective 31 August 2015).

The Nominating Commission’s press release summarizes the process for selecting Bender’s successor:

The Supreme Court Nominating Commission met in Denver on June 8 and 9, 2015, to interview and select three candidates for a vacancy on the Colorado Supreme Court created by the retirement of the Hon. Gregory Hobbs, Associate Justice of the Colorado Supreme Court. The vacancy is effective 31 August 2015. The nominees are Richard L. Gabriel, Melissa Hart and David Prince.

Under the Colorado Constitution, the governor has 15 days from June 10, 2015, within which to appoint one of the nominees as a justice on the Colorado Supreme Court.

Comments regarding any of the nominees may be sent via e-mail to the governor at

The three finalists (from whom Governor John Hickenlooper will select one) are:

Judge Gabriel has served on the Colorado Court of Appeals since 30 April 2008; he was last retained in 2010 (Clear The Bench Colorado had no recommendation on his retention at that time, as the record on his performance was limited due to few rulings in his short time on the court)

CU Law Professor Melissa Hart has never served as a judge, although she has clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, which (together with her tenure at the CU-Boulder Law School) gives some insight into her judicial philosophy.  Melissa Hart also ran for CU Regent in 2010 (at the time, the most expensive race for CU Regent ever) while a university employee, raising concerns about an ethical conflict of interest (campaigning while receiving taxpayer dollars, for a position in which she would have voted on her own department’s budget and personal salary)

Judge Prince was also a finalist to succeed retiring former chief justice Mary Mullarkey in 2010; he was profiled by Denver Post courts reporter Felisa Cardona (“Colorado Supreme Court finalist Prince applies diligence to his cases – and his barbecue“) in an article appearing 4 September 2010.  He was again a finalist to succeed retiring former chief justice Michael Bender in 2012.  Perhaps the third time will be the charm for Judge Prince?

The Law Week Online article, “Finalists Announced for CO Supreme Court Vacancy” (10 June 2015) summarizes additional background information on the three finalists.

Unfortunately, Colorado citizens know more about the process of picking the Pope than about how our state selects nominees to judicial office.

This is unfortunate – because, despite some flaws (most importantly, a lack of transparency and public accountability – secrecy encouraged by the legal establishment, who are more interested in protecting their members and covering for their ‘buddies on the bench’ than allowing them to be called to account), the process does provide some level of front-end vetting of judicial applicants, filtering out the obviously unqualified and excessively partisan (weeding out the ‘worst of the worst’).

However, the lack of transparency and public understanding of the process leads to a general lack of confidence in our judiciary and undermines the right and ability of Colorado Citizens to hold our judicial branch officials accountable – leading to ignorant statements such as “why bother to vote out the bad ones?  They’ll just replace ‘em with more of the same.”  (That attitude reminds me of nothing so much as someone clinging to an abusive domestic relationship – putting up with the beatings because it’s what they know.  Step One: remove the source of the abuse.  Step Two: make better choices for the future…)

So, how does the Supreme Court Nominating Commission try to make ‘better choices’ for replacing outgoing justices?

For a complete explanation of the judicial nominating process in Colorado, read:
Colorado’s “Merit Selection” Judicial Nominating Process

By the Numbers: How the Judicial Selection Process works

  1. On announcement of the vacancy and solicitation for application, prospective nominees submit an extensive application packet (including a long questionnaire, writing sample, background information, resume of relevant professional experience, and references).
  2. Commission members review the applications, and select from the total list (this year, 31 people applied for the impending vacancy) for interviews (a particular candidate will be interviewed if any commissioner expresses a strong desire to have them appear).  Commissioners consider the current makeup of the court, and may advocate for a specific constituency – a particular area of legal expertise – such as water or business law, or possibly a regional or ethnic representation in pursuit of court ‘diversity’).  Interviews are based on a common set of ‘core’ questions (for consistency of comparison & evaluation); each commissioner develops and uses their own evaluation criteria.
  3. Following interviews, the commission deliberates/discusses the candidate, voicing comments or concerns to the group at large.
  4. Following all of the interviews, the commission casts a ballot – three unranked votes per opening (for the Colorado Supreme Court or Court of Appeals – lower courts may only require 2-3 nominees).  The top vote-getters become the finalists – with the caveat that any finalist MUST receive a majority of total Commission votes (i.e. 8 of 15), irrespective of how many are actually present.  Multiple ballots may be (generally are) necessary.  (Note that the current makeup of the Nominating Commission – 7 Democrats, 5 Republicans, 3 Unaffiliated –  ensures that any finalists MUST receive at least one vote from multiple party affiliations).
  5. The names of the three finalists are submitted for consideration by the governor, who has 15 days to make a selection from the list.

ALL of our sources (from differing party backgrounds) have stressed that the Nomination Commission deliberations are non-partisan (which is not to say, as our sources admit, that the deliberations and considerations do not reflect ideology or judicial philosophy – which is, in our view, entirely appropriate).

Citizen participation in the judicial nominating commissions (either at the district level or statewide) is essential to ensuring that good judges – who understand that their role is to fairly and impartially uphold and apply the law – are elevated to judicial office, instead of more politicians in black robes.

This is particularly important in selecting the next statewide appellate court judges – many of whom 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 judges are fulfilling their proper roles as referees upholding the rules rather than players attempting to score for their “team’s” agenda.

Our view: an informed citizenry and active citizen participation is vital in restoring accountability and transparency to the 3rd branch of state government, the judicial branch.

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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