CTBC’s 2016 Evaluations of Colorado Judicial Performance: Do you Know Your Judge?
We the people are the rightful masters of both Congress and the courts, not to overthrow the Constitution but to overthrow the men who pervert the Constitution. — Abraham Lincoln
As Coloradans cast their ballots with only two weeks to go before “Election Day” (an increasingly meaningless term under Colorado’s all-mail-ballot election system), despite being bombarded with political ads and mailers, MOST voters have little to no information on up to a third of the people asking for their vote: the judges - our state’s third Branch of government. Unfortunately, the vast majority of voters won’t be getting any better information before receiving or casting their ballots – although “experts agree” that “more information to voters is what’s needed.”
“Only one third of Colorado voters feel they are sufficiently informed to decide which judges should be retained,” according to a 2014 survey commissioned by the state government. “Further, only one-quarter of Colorado voters feel that most of the electorate has enough information.” (Quoted from Colorado judges win elections despite bad reviews“)
Unfortunately, the official, government-sanctioned incumbent-protection “performance reviews” produced by the state’s Commissions on Judicial Performance (published and disseminated, at significant taxpayer expense, in the “Blue Book”) fail to provide much (if any) substance behind the published “recommendations” (almost uniformly in favor of “retaining” judicial incumbents in office).
The Blue Book “reviews” are thus little more than (taxpayer-funded) political ads for incumbents.
A recent Denver 9News (NBC) story, “Colorado judges win elections despite bad reviews” converted the “official” performance review survey results into letter grades for each of the 108 judges appearing on the 2016 ballot. Amazingly, just like Lake Woebegone, all of the judges were graded “above average” (letter grades ranging from a high of “A-” to a low of “B-” with the vast majority receiving a “B+” grade).
When every judge appearing on the ballot is graded “above average” how can voters distinguish between “the good, the bad, and the ugly?”
The Commissions on Judicial Performance (groups of political appointees charged with evaluating and reporting on the job performance of judicial incumbents) routinely fail to actually evaluate judicial job performance or provide adequate information sufficient for voters to base a decision. Summarizing an incumbent’s resume and tabulating the results of surveys sent out to a select group of lawyers and other judges fails to answer the question posed to voters, “do they deserve another term – and why?”
There has been a failure of real performance evaluation and a lack of analytical content in the write-ups for the voters.
If narratives provide meaningful information about how a justice has decided cases, there will be accountability and the system will work as it is designed to do. Too often in the past, narratives have amounted to complimentary resumes instead of job performance evaluations. Some commentators and observers have denigrated the narratives as a “rubber stamp” exercise for retaining judges.
In any event, why do we have political appointees (commissioners are appointed by the governor, attorney general, state legislators and the Chief Justice of the Colorado Supreme Court – the latter certainly seeming to have a conflict of interest) telling Coloradans how to vote?
Colorado voters deserve better information on these unelected officials, who (usually with little notice) exert enormous influence over their lives. For a 4th straight election cycle, Clear The Bench Colorado researched, reviewed and evaluated the actual job performance of the appellate court (statewide) judges appearing on the 2016 ballot (1 Supreme Court justice, 10 Court of Appeals judges), collected inputs on district and county judges from around the state, and published a substantive analysis of judicial performance in an easy-to-read scorecard format.
Our courts rule on important issues that seriously impact all Colorado citizens, including:
- Elections and voting rights issues (including recent legislative election, special district election, and school board election cases)
- Tax increases without constitutionally-required voter approval (property taxes, vehicle registration taxes – er, “fees”, energy taxes, and the recent proliferation of taxes (er, “fees”) on shopping bags
- The right to start and run a business without needing government permission
- Free Speech issues (including both academic and political speech rights)
- School funding and school choice issues
- Self-protection or “gun” rights issues (including overturning an illegal ban on concealed-carry by the University of Colorado)
- Healthcare issues (including insurance coverage, medical records privacy and liability for malpractice resulting in death)
- Congressional and state legislative redistricting and reapportionment, setting Colorado’s legislative district boundaries for a decade and exerting tremendous influence over Colorado’s electoral destiny
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.