Governor Hickenlooper selects Judge Richard Gabriel for next Colorado Supreme Court Justice

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper announced his pick for the next Colorado Supreme Court Justice Tuesday afternoon, 23 June 2015: Colorado Court of Appeals Judge Richard L. Gabriel, who will succeed retiring Justice Gregory Hobbs effective 1 September 2015.

Governor Hickenlooper had until this Thursday to announce his selection from among the three finalists (Judge Gabriel, Judge Prince, and University of Colorado Law Professor Melissa Hart) nominated by the state judicial nominating commission, according to the timeline set forth under the Colorado Constitution.

Judge Gabriel has served on the Colorado Court of Appeals since his 30 April 2008 appointment by former Governor Bill Ritter; he was most recently retained in office 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).

Judge Gabriel appears to be a consensus compromise pick by Governor Hickenlooper; according to the Denver Post and the Denver Business Journal, the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry (CACI) and other business interests had lobbied for Prince’s appointment, along with the Colorado Springs Gazette’s editorial board; while “progressives” lobbied for Leftist law professor Melissa Hart.

According to Clear The Bench Colorado sources in the legal community, Judge Gabriel is generally well-regarded, and considered a capable appellate court judge.  He is considered approachable, reasonable, thoughtful and thorough in his legal opinions.  Some sources have opined that Judge Gabriel, although well versed in various aspects of statutory application, is not among the more strict constructionists on constitutional issues (which is, perhaps unfortunately, not atypical of a majority of judges and lawyers).

Judge Gabriel was considered a consensus-builder during his time on the judicial liaison committee, and has worked well with various commissions interfacing with the judicial branch.

On a personal note (not to toot his own horn), Judge Gabriel plays trumpet (for fun) and has kept in practice.

Although Judge Gabriel has authored only a few published opinions, some of those have been particularly noteworthy.  He wrote the opinion in the Colorado Ethics Watch v. Senate Majority Fund case, perhaps the most important ruling on campaign finance law (particularly, the issue of “express advocacy” in regulation of political speech), rejecting CEW’s attempt to expand the definition of “express advocacy” to include the “functional equivalent” thereof.  Judge Gabriel also wrote a special concurrence in the Gray v. University of Colorado Hospital Authority case, which affirmed public entity immunity from liability for tort claims based on allegations that the entity or the entity’s employees acted in a willful and wanton manner.

 Our View:  Judge Gabriel is likely to be a fairly middle-of-the-road jurist, who will likely contribute to a significantly more impartial and balanced Colorado Supreme Court (the court has advanced leaps and bounds from the blatantly partisan “Mullarkey Majority” days from as recently as five years ago).  Clear The Bench Colorado looks forward to providing more detailed analysis of Judge Gabriel’s performance on the Colorado Supreme Court over his “probationary term” prior to his scheduled retention vote in 2018.

Citizen participation in the judicial review and retention process (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 at the appellate court level – 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.

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

For a complete explanation of the judicial nominating process in Colorado, read:

Colorado’s “Merit Selection” Judicial Nominating Process

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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