Mullarkey Majority

Cleaning up the “Dirty Dozen” – Agriculture Tax repeal moves forward in state House

No man’s life, liberty, or property is safe while the legislature is in session.” – Mark Twain (1866)

Occasionally, however, the legislature can succeed in undoing previous acts putting one’s life, liberty, or property at risk…

State legislators made some progress this week towards repealing one of last year’s “Dirty Dozen” tax increases (which exploited a Colorado Supreme Court ruling to take more of your money without asking, as is required under the Colorado Constitution).

The “Dirty Dozen” was the name given to a package of twelve legislative bills which sought to increase tax revenues by eliminating existing tax credits or exemptions – an end-run around the constitutional requirement (in Article X, Section 20 – colloquially known as the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, or TABOR) for “voter approval in advance for… any new tax, tax rate increase, or… tax policy change directly causing a net tax revenue gain to any district.”

Last year’s legislative majorities (Democrats dominated both chambers of the state General Assembly) were emboldened in their assault on the constitutional rights (and wallets) of Colorado citizens by an interpretation of the Colorado Supreme Court’s ruling in the notorious “Mill Levy Tax Freeze” case (another unconstitutional tax increase, sanctioned by the court under the pretense that a rate “freeze” which collects more revenue doesn’t count as a tax increase for triggering that pesky constitutional requirement to receive “voter approval in advance”).  Solid legislative majorities, a compliant governor, and a complicit supreme court allowed them to take a bigger bite of your money without first (or ever) asking for permission.

Since the 2010 elections resulted in a shift of control of one legislative chamber (the state House of Representatives) and many members of the new majority campaigned on a promise to seek the repeal of these unconstitutional tax increases, progress towards the elimination of any one of these unconstitutional (and economy-killing) tax increases is welcome news.  Last week, HB 11-1005, Reinstate Tax Exemption for Ag Products (Sonnenberg/Brophy), which would repeal the 2.9 percent state sales and use tax on agricultural compounds, bull semen and pesticides that was (unconstitutionally) imposed by last year’s HB10-1195, Suspend Ag Sales & Use Tax Exemption (Ferrandino/Heath), passed the House with a bipartisan 48-17 vote and appears likely to pass the state Senate as well, according to this article (“Ag tax repeal passes state House“).

Repealing last year’s (unconstitutional) agricultural tax increase is a win both for the rule of law and Colorado consumers – since the tax indirectly raised the price of all food grown, raised, or otherwise produced in Colorado.  Noticed your grocery bill creeping up?  Last year’s tax increase is partially to blame; projected revenue gains of $1.5M have not been realized, while higher food costs are shifted to consumers.

Of course, had the Colorado Supreme Court stuck to its sworn duty to uphold the Colorado Constitution and the rule of law in the first place (instead of legislating from the bench), none of the “Dirty Dozen” would have been proposed, much less passed – and we wouldn’t need to pass more laws to repeal bad laws already enacted.

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 with legislators and others interested in reforming the systemic shortcomings of Colorado’s “merit selection & retention” system to increase transparency and accountability to the public, and to provide useful 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.

Movie Ticket Tax (er, “fee”) coming soon to a theater near you?

Apparently, some folks still haven’t gotten the memo…

As reported in the Denver Post (“Bill proposes 10-cent fee on movie tickets“) online Friday afternoon,

Two Republican lawmakers introduced a bill today that would impose a 10-cent fee on every movie ticket sold in the state, beginning July 1, to help fund an incentive program for promoting film production in Colorado.

The mania to circumvent the Colorado Constitution and avoid seeking voter approval of tax increases by calling them “fees” is apparently not an affliction restricted to the Democrat party alone.  Leaving aside the policy implications of picking industry favorites for government support and subsidies (“corporate welfare”) at taxpayer expense, the proposed new “fee” is clearly a tax – since those paying derive no benefit (receiving neither good nor service) from the payment – and therefore subject to prior approval by a vote of the people (Colorado Constitution, Article X, Section 20 – the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights).

(For an in-depth discussion of the difference between fees and taxes, see When is a “fee” not a tax?)

It is not uncommon for lawmakers to propose measures involving fee increases in lieu of tax hikes, which require voter approval under provisions of TABOR, the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.

Legislators of both parties swear an oath to ‘support and uphold’ the Constitution – which includes that pesky Article X, Section 20.  Like the executive and (especially) judicial branches, they don’t get to pick and choose which parts of the Constitution to support or ignore without violating their oath of office.  Republicans should be especially sensitive of this oath – and of the constitutional requirements and restrictions imposed by TABOR – because they made constitutionality (or lack thereof) the centerpiece of their (principled) opposition to last year’s “Dirty Dozen” tax increases (many of which they are now attempting to repeal).

To avoid the taint of hypocrisy, Republican party and legislative leaders should call on the bill’s sponsors to withdraw the proposed legislation.  Otherwise, the GOP may find itself on shaky moral ground when (justifiably) calling for the repeal of last year’s “Dirty Dozen” tax increases – and set itself up for near-permanent minority status as the energized grassroots electorate turns away in disgust at the party’s perceived lack of principle.

“Supporting party above principle does a disservice to both”–El Presidente (Slapstick Politics blog)

The fight to reform Colorado’s corrupt legal/judicial complex continues.  Clear The Bench Colorado is working to hold the consortium of legal-establishment special-interest groups who attempted (and may have succeeded in) buying the election for their buddies on the bench accountable for violations of Colorado campaign finance law.  Longer term, Clear The Bench Colorado will work with legislators and others interested in reforming the systemic shortcomings of Colorado’s “merit selection & retention” system to increase transparency and accountability to the public.  For both endeavors, we would appreciate 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.

The ‘Dirty Dozen’ Tax Increases: How the 2010 Colorado Legislature exploited a Colorado Supreme Court ruling to (unconstitutionally) take more of your money without asking

The following article was written for, and originally appears in, The Constitutionalist Today (February edition).

No man’s life, liberty, or property is safe while the legislature is in session.” – Mark Twain (1866)

As another legislative session begins, the Colorado General Assembly once again faces a hefty budget shortfall; the projected gap between expected revenue and planned spending is $1.2B (yes, that’s $1,200,000,000) this fiscal year.  Last year at this time, the projected revenue shortfall was a mere $660M (about half of this year’s shortfall) which the legislature “fixed” with a combination of one-time subsidies, funds transfers and raids, other budgetary gimmicks – and the “Dirty Dozen” tax increases.

The “Dirty Dozen” was the name given to a package of twelve legislative bills which sought to increase tax revenues collected by eliminating existing tax credits or exemptions – an end-run around the constitutional requirement (in Article X, Section 20 – colloquially known as the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, or TABOR) requiring “voter approval in advance for… any new tax, tax rate increase, or… tax policy change directly causing a net tax revenue gain to any district.”

Last year’s legislative majorities (Democrats dominated both chambers of the Colorado General Assembly) were emboldened in their assault on the constitutional rights of Colorado citizens (and the grab into their wallets) by an interpretation of the Colorado Supreme Court’s ruling in the notorious “Mill Levy Tax Freeze” case (another unconstitutional tax increase, sanctioned by the court under the pretense that a rate “freeze” which collects more revenue doesn’t count as a tax increase for triggering that pesky constitutional requirement to receive “voter approval in advance”).  Solid legislative majorities, a compliant governor, and a complicit supreme court allowed them to take a bigger bite of your money without first (or ever) asking for permission.

Since the 2010 elections resulted in a shift of control of one legislative chamber (the state House of Representatives) and many members of the new majority campaigned on a promise to seek the repeal of these unconstitutional tax increases, it’s worth re-visiting the “Dirty Dozen” tax laws to provide an overview of what’s at stake.

Originally, twelve bills were introduced to repeal a total of thirteen existing tax credits or exemptions; one of the bills was not passed, resulting in eleven bills increasing twelve taxes (either way, the term “Dirty Dozen” remains an appropriate and accurate description).

In order of introduction, the bills were:

HB10-1189, Eliminate Sales Tax Exemption for Direct Mail (Pommer/Heath), signed 2/24/10. This bill increased the sales tax on direct mail advertising, impacting both the actual advertising companies and the predominantly small-business market (especially local small businesses) that rely on direct-mail advertising as a cost-effective and less expensive alternative to radio/TV ads.  This tax increase was projected to raise $1.5M, but has actually generated less revenue.

HB10-1190, Suspend Industrial Fuel Sales & Use Tax Exemption (Pommer/Heath), signed 2/24/10.  Also known as the “Energy Tax”, this bill effectively raised the cost of every product and service produced in Colorado (since every business using energy – i.e. all businesses – now must pay a higher price for energy, directly or indirectly, sometimes both – used ‘on the job.’) This new tax hits manufacturing industries, already pinched by increasing fuel prices, especially hard; the state’s largest manufacturing industry (Pueblo’s Evraz Rocky Mountain Steel) expected to pay $2M/yr in additional costs.  Projected state revenue gains of $48M have not been realized.

HB10-1191, Eliminate Candy & Soda Sales Tax Exemption (Pommer/Heath), signed 2/24/10.  The notoriously capricious Candy Tax not only angered Colorado kids, it also burdened stores with checking ingredients for each item to see if it was subject to taxation. (Ironically, some “energy bars” are considered “candy” while “Twix” or “KitKat” bars are not, based on the ingredient list).  Again, small businesses were disproportionately impacted and, predictably, revenue projections of $17.9M have not been achieved.

HB10-1192, Sales & Use Tax of Standardized Software (Pommer/Heath), signed 2/24/10.  Software downloads – particularly upgrades or updates to previously purchased programs such as antivirus or antispam software – were most impacted; previously, direct online purchases were not taxed.  Projected revenue gains of $15M have not been realized.

HB10-1193, Sales Tax Out-of-State Retailers (Pommer/Heath), signed 2/24/10.  Also known as the Amazon Tax, this tax increase prompted Amazon.com to terminate its local affiliate program (reducing income for some 5,000 Coloradans) and led to a (predicted) court challenge, since the bill sought to collect personal purchase data from online retailers (violating the 4th Amendment). Taxpayers are funding the state’s defense (filed in Federal court, due to lack of confidence in Colorado courts) and needless to say, the projected $5M revenue has not been achieved.

HB10-1194, Eliminate Nonessential Articles Sales Tax Exemption (Ferrandino/Heath), signed 2/24/10.  Otherwise known as the Doggy Bag Tax – since legislators consider take-home food containers “non-essential” items for restaurants and thus subject to higher taxes (raising the cost of dining out, since the restaurants have to factor the increased cost into their prices).

HB10-1195, Suspend Ag Sales & Use Tax Exemption (Ferrandino/Heath), signed 2/24/10.  Increasing taxes on a wide range of agricultural products (including animal feed, vaccines, drugs, pesticides, etc.) has indirectly raised the price of all food grown, raised, or otherwise produced in Colorado.  Notice your grocery bill creeping up?  This tax increase might be to blame; projected revenue gains of $1.5M have not been realized (and higher costs are shifted to consumers).

HB10-1196, Eliminate Certain Cars Qualified for Tax Credits (Ferrandino/Heath), signed 2/24/10.  Removed several vehicles previously qualifying for tax credits from the list.

HB10-1197, Reduce Conservation Easement Cap Amount (Ferrandino/Heath), signed 4/29/10. Reduced the maximum state income tax credit allowed for conservation tax easements (expect Governor Hickenlooper to be willing to sign off on repeal, for obvious personal tax reasons).

HB10-1198, Suspend Credit Alternative Minimum Tax (Ferrandino/Heath), postponed.

HB10-1199, Net Operation Loss Deduction Temp Limit (Ferrandino/Heath), signed 2/24/10. Reducing the ability of businesses to write off losses just when they might be recovering delays their ability to invest, create jobs and generate revenue.  Penny wise, pound foolish?

HB10-1200, Enterprise Zone Investment Tax Credit Deferral (Hullinghorst/Heath), 5/7/2010.  Deferring income tax credits on enterprise zone investments has, unsurprisingly, reduced the willingness of potential investors to… well, invest – further slowing economic recovery.

The preceding list was a short summary of the “Dirty Dozen” tax bills; space precludes more detail, but interested readers can learn more at http://www.clearthebenchcolorado.org/ (search on keywords “Dirty Dozen”, “Amazon Tax”, “Candy Tax”, “Doggy Bag Tax” and others).

Matt Arnold is currently the executive director and primary spokesman for the grassroots effort to restore accountability to Colorado’s judiciary, Clear The Bench Colorado.  Matt launched the effort following the Colorado Supreme Court’s violation of the Colorado Constitution, citizen’s rights under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR), and their duty to uphold the rule of law in the infamous “Mill Levy Tax Freeze” case.  Since April 2009, Matt has tirelessly sought to educate Colorado voters of their right to demand accountability of our Supreme Court justices in the November 2010 retention elections, which (although falling short of removing the three anti-constitutional incumbents on the ballot, achieved the highest percentage of “NO” votes for sitting “Supremes” in the history of the state- on a shoestring budget and no organized support).

Clear The Bench Colorado wins opening rounds in legal battle over “Know Your Judge” campaign finance law violations

As reported in Friday’s Face The State (“Judge clears the way for Clear the Bench“),

plaintiff Clear the Bench Colorado (CTBC) has won some key battles in its effort to prove that a consortium of groups behind the Know Your Judge website constituted a political committee that failed to comply with laws governing spending and electioneering.

Last week, an administrative law judge denied a motion by Know Your Judge to quash CTBC’s subpoenas and another motion seeking a protective order limiting the amount of discovery in the case.

The victory is all the more remarkable because the case against the “Know Your Judge” consortium is being argued by a non-attorney: CTBC’s citizen-soldier Director Matt Arnold.  Despite a litany of legal maneuvering and a barrage of legal briefs filed by the high-powered (and highly-paid) attorneys representing the legal-establishment special-interest groups making up the “Know Your Judge” Campaign, it was CTBC’s clear, concise reasoning that won the day:

Know Your Judge, which is represented by a team of lawyers – including former Speaker of the House Terrance Carroll – said in its motion to quash that the subpoenas were irrelevant, unreasonable and overly broad.

CTBC’s Response Brief demonstrated otherwise, laying out the grounds for requested discovery (getting the facts, which KYJ’s defense attorneys attempted to suppress) and the judge agreed:

Judge Judith Schulman was unconvinced by Know Your Judge’s motions, writing that “intent clearly is a relevant factor in establishing the elements of CTBC’s claim that Respondents constituted a political committee.” She also denied the defendants motion for a protective order, noting they’d failed to show that the records requested under subpoena contained any “privileged or private information that requires special protection.”

Although the legal game is far from over, at the end of the first period of play, so far it’s Underdog: 2, Big Bad Lawyers: 0

Score another one for the underdog!

As the Face The State article notes:

The matter is currently scheduled for a hearing Feb. 23. If the complaint is upheld, the defendants can be levied fines of $50 per day for late reporting, plus two to five times the amount of contributions. The latter fine would equal between $170,000 and $425,000.

The fight to reform Colorado’s corrupt legal/judicial complex continues.  Clear The Bench Colorado is working to hold the consortium of legal-establishment special-interest groups who attempted (and may have succeeded in) buying the election for their buddies on the bench accountable for violations of Colorado campaign finance law.  Longer term, Clear The Bench Colorado will work with legislators and others interested in reforming the systemic shortcomings of Colorado’s “merit selection & retention” system to increase transparency and accountability to the public.  For both endeavors, we would appreciate 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.

Clear The Bench Colorado Director Matt Arnold interviewed on Rob McNealy Show

Clear The Bench Colorado Director Matt Arnold discussed the Colorado judicial accountability effort in 2010 (and beyond) on the Rob McNealy show, Thursday 13 January 2011.

(Listen to the podcast here – the segment starts at the 47:00 minute mark)

The fight to reform Colorado’s corrupt legal/judicial complex continues.  Clear The Bench Colorado is working to hold the consortium of legal-establishment special-interest groups who attempted (and may have succeeded in) buying the election for their buddies on the bench accountable for violations of Colorado campaign finance law.  Longer term, Clear The Bench Colorado will work with legislators and others interested in reforming the systemic shortcomings of Colorado’s “merit selection & retention” system to increase transparency and accountability to the public.  For both endeavors, we would appreciate 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.

Colorado State of the Judiciary: “lean and efficient” courts or “Judicial Hellhole?”

Newly appointed Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Bender (who was retained in office by the most narrow margin in Colorado history for an incumbent state supreme court justice along with his colleague, and ideological ally, Alex Martinez) delivered his first “State of the Judiciary” address before a joint session of the Colorado General Assembly on Friday, 11 January.

(Highlights and full text of the address were published Monday (14 January) by Law Week Colorado, “Colo. Judicial Branch Lean, Efficient Says Chief Justice In State Of Judiciary Address“)

Unsurprisingly, Chief Justice Bender painted a rosy (and self-serving) picture of the state of Colorado’s judicial branch, touting the successes of some specialty courts (a veterans’ court in El Paso County, and a truancy court in Pueblo County) along with some personnel and administrative efficiencies achieved statewide.  Bender even went so far as to claim credit for the judiciary having “helped balance the state budget” through various cost-cutting measures, and went on to claim that Colorado “continues to lead the nation in court technology applications” such as a new “statewide e-filing system for all cases” designed to increase efficiency and “yield additional revenue.”  (Since when is “yielding additional revenue” a function of the courts?)  Oh, and speaking of revenue – he was able to get in a plug for the new $258M judicial complex financed by a combination of debt (er, “not-debt”) and new “fees.”

Although the listed accomplishments are laudable achievements, they amount to somewhat superficial marginalia – not quite as trivial as tinkering with the deck chairs on the Titanic, but rather missing the point on the primary function of the courts: upholding the rule of law.

A more accurate assessment of the actual state of Colorado’s judiciary in that regard was contained in the American Tort Reform Association’s annual “Judicial Hellholes” report for 2010, released just last month. The report lists Colorado as one of only three state supreme courts nationwide to qualify for the dubious “honor” of being declared a “judicial hellhole” (Colorado joins Michigan and perennial favorite West Virginia in being so recognized).

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“Traditionally, Judicial Hellholes have been considered places where civil judges systematically apply laws and court procedures in an unfair and unbalanced manner, generally against defendants in civil lawsuits,” explains ATRA general counsel Victor Schwartz.  “The jurisdictions we name as Judicial Hellholes each year are not the only unfair courts in the nation, but they are among the most unfair, based on our survey of litigants and considerable independent research.”

Actions speak louder than words; and although Bender’s speech gives lip service to the primacy of the rule of law, his actions on the bench have demonstrated the opposite.  Indeed, Bender has been one of the most egregious perpetrators of putting personal views (his own) above the letter of the law.

The hypocrisy is stunning.  Justice Bender opened his remarks with reference to our 2nd President:

As John Adams, one of our founding fathers, said we are a government of laws, not men.

“. . . that a form of government which unites all virtue . . . in a reverence and obedience to the laws, is the only one in which liberty can be secure, and all orders and ranks compelled to prefer the public good before their own; that is the government for which we plead.”

Adams’ point rings true today — to have a government that secures liberty and freedom, all branches of the government must be obedient to the law.

Yes, Justice Bender; ALL branches of the government.

To paraphrase another great president, “I knew John Adams…  John Adams is my great-great-great-something grandfather [Ed. on my mother's side; true fact] and you’re no John Adams.”

Have you no shame, sir?

Such contrast between rhetoric and reality; the trueState of the Judiciary” in Colorado.

The fight to reform Colorado’s corrupt legal/judicial complex continues.  Clear The Bench Colorado is working to hold the consortium of legal-establishment special-interest groups who attempted (and may have succeeded in) buying the election for their buddies on the bench accountable for violations of Colorado campaign finance law.  (Perhaps not coincidentally, Justice Bender sits on the board of one of the defendant groups).  Longer term, Clear The Bench Colorado will work with legislators and others interested in reforming the systemic shortcomings of Colorado’s “merit selection & retention” system to increase transparency and accountability to the public.  For both of those endeavors, we would appreciate 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.

Taxes on Fees (that are really taxes anyway)

One more example of how the Colorado Supreme Court has aided and abetted another unconstitutional assault on your wallet was recently highlighted in an informative article by Face The State‘s Peter Blake, “One used-tire fee drives another” (the article also appeared in the Denver Daily News).  The article traces the mutation of the “used-tire fee” from it’s original purpose of collecting funds to offset the cost of recycling used tires to become just another slush fund for special interests:

The used-tire fee has been something of a fiasco for years. It started as a $1 fee (not payable if you took your tires home) in 1993 but even at the beginning, the proceeds were used more for other recycling projects than for tire disposal. Inevitably, other interest groups with no connection to tires also horned in on the booty, even higher education.

Such transformation of a “use fee” (tied to consumption of, or access to, a particular good or service) to other purposes makes it a tax – and, since it continues to be collected (now for different purposes than the original basis for the “fee” – qualifying as a tax policy change under the Colorado Constitution’s Article X, Section 20) an unconstitutional taking and an assault on your wallet.

First, the state recycling fee is no longer tied to your surrendering your old tires. Thanks to a bill passed in 2009, the $1.50 is now charged on each new tire you buy. You have to pay even if you take your old tires home and hang them in the backyard to swing on or throw footballs through. That would seem to make it not a fee at all but an increase in the sales tax-an unconstitutional one, since it wasn’t approved by the voters. But it’s never been challenged because everybody knows the Colorado Supreme Court, which hates TABOR and doesn’t care how the legislature raises money, would reject the argument.

The Colorado legislature – aided and abetted by the Colorado Supreme Court – has been operating outside the law.  The Colorado Constitution enshrines the right of the citizenry to have a say in how much of their hard-earned money can be taken from them; we have the right to vote on tax increases, by whatever name (and yes, that includes taxes masquerading as “fees”).  However creatively defined – if it looks like a tax, and quacks like a tax – it’s a tax, and you have the right to have your say at the ballot box before any new tax or tax increase goes into effect.

The fight to reform Colorado’s corrupt legal/judicial complex continues.  Clear The Bench Colorado is working to hold the consortium of legal-establishment special-interest groups who attempted (and may have succeeded in) buying the election for their buddies on the bench accountable for violations of Colorado campaign finance law.  Longer term, Clear The Bench Colorado will work with legislators and others interested in reforming the systemic shortcomings of Colorado’s “merit selection & retention” system to increase transparency and accountability to the public.  For both of those endeavors, we would appreciate 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.

Political End Runs: How Judges violate the law (and your rights)

The Constitution of the United States begins with the words “We the people.” But neither the Constitution nor “we the people” will mean anything if politicians and judges can continue to do end runs around both.

So begins a superb article by esteemed economist and commentator Thomas Sowell, published Tuesday (“Political End Runs“).

Sowell states the case as eloquently as I have seen about the need for citizens to hold not only their elected officials, but also unelected bureaucrats and judges accountable – to constitutional limits specifically and the rule of law in general.

Sowell’s piece begins with an expose of how bureaucrats in the Medicare office are quietly implementing rules for the healthcare “reform” legislation that were explicitly rejected by Congress (during debate – such as it was – on the same legislation).  As many critics pointed out at the time, the healthcare law ceded extraordinary power and authority to unelected bureaucrats to make up implementing rules as they went along.

The article quickly proceeds to a much more wide-reaching (and dangerous) trend in “political end runs” – judicial usurpation:

It is not only members of Congress or the administration who treat “we the people” and the Constitution as nuisances to do an end run around. Judges, including justices of the Supreme Court, have been doing this increasingly over the past hundred years.

Naturally, Sowell’s focus is at the Federal level – but the problem he articulates is very much a threat at the state level:

Professor Roscoe Pound likewise referred to the need for “a living constitution by judicial interpretation,” in order to “respond to the vital needs of present-day life.” He rejected the idea of law as “a body of rules.”

But if law is not a body of rules, what is it? A set of arbitrary fiats by judges, imposing their own vision of “the needs of the times”?

Actually, that describes quite adequately the condition of law in the state of Colorado – at least at the highest levels.  The Mullarkey Court has repeatedly injected its own vision of “the needs of the times” over the clear letter of the law and the constraints of the Constitution.  The Bender Court appears pre-disposed to follow this trend into the next decade – cementing Colorado’s status as a “judicial hellhole.”

The institutions that should be addressing the problem – Colorado’s legal establishment, sworn to “support the Constitution” and uphold the rule of law (which is actually part of the oath taken by lawyers in order to practice law in this state) – are instead fighting to expand the power of their “guild” and promote the special interests of the legal caste, even if it means playing fast and loose with the law.  (A consortium of legal-establishment special-interest groups, including the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System, IAALS; the Colorado Bar Association, COBAR; the Colorado Judicial Institute, CJI; and the League of Women Voters, LWV banded together to run a campaign in support of incumbent judges on the ballot this year, but failed to comply with Colorado Campaign Finance Law in the process).  Apparently, members of the legal establishment feel that the rules applying to ordinary citizens should not constrain their own activities.

This is, unfortunately, indicative of the mindset which dominates our would-be “ruling class”:

In other words, judges were encouraged to do an end run around rules, such as those set forth in the Constitution, and around the elected representatives of “we the people.” As Roscoe Pound put it, law should be “in the hands of a progressive and enlightened caste whose conceptions are in advance of the public.”

Sowell’s solution?

Unsurprisingly, the same solution advocated by Clear The Bench Colorado: accountability.

The Constitution cannot protect us unless we protect the Constitution, by voting out those who promote end runs around it.

A superb article that should have been written (and widely disseminated) three or more months ago.

Although Colorado voters lost an opportunity (and a battle) this last November, the fight for judicial accountability continues.  For those of us who would like to see Colorado’s judiciary reformed and returned to a proper role of upholding the Constitution and individual rights, we would appreciate your continued support – your comments (Sound Off!) and contributions are still needed. Freedom isn’t free -nor is it always easy to be a Citizen, not a subject.

Ultimately, though – it’s worth the effort.

It’s Official! Colorado is a “Judicial Hellhole”

Last month’s Colorado Supreme Court ruling that created a “right” for plaintiffs (more accurately, their lawyers) to collect “recovered damages” over and above costs actually paid was apparently the straw that broke the camel’s back for a group that rates the performance of courts nationwide (as if the Mullarkey-Bender Court’s rulings to sanction unconstitutional tax increases by way of eliminating tax exemptions and credits or by re-defining taxes as “fees”, erosion of property rights, and usurpation of legislative authority wasn’t enough), adding Colorado to the list of jurisdictions nationally qualifying as a “judicial hellhole.”

The American Tort Reform Association’s annual “Judicial Hellholes” report for 2010 lists Colorado as one of only three state supreme courts nationwide to qualify for the “honor” (Colorado joins Michigan and perennial favorite West Virginia in being so recognized).

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“Traditionally, Judicial Hellholes have been considered places where civil judges systematically apply laws and court procedures in an unfair and unbalanced manner, generally against defendants in civil lawsuits,” explains ATRA general counsel Victor Schwartz.  “The jurisdictions we name as Judicial Hellholes each year are not the only unfair courts in the nation, but they are among the most unfair, based on our survey of litigants and considerable independent research.”

Congratulations, Colorado – the legal-establishment special-interest groups that spent so much time and money this Fall (violating campaign finance laws in the process) telling you that our state’s judicial system is “nationally recognized” were right (in that statement) after all.

For those of us who would like to see Colorado’s judiciary reformed and recognized for upholding the Constitution and individual rights, we would appreciate your continued support – your comments (Sound Off!) and contributions are still needed.

Freedom isn’t free -nor is it always easy to be a Citizen, not a subject.

Ultimately, though – it’s worth the effort.

Merry Monday Media Review: Clear The Bench Colorado, Colorado Supreme Court in the news

Clear The Bench Colorado continues to make news (except in the pages of the Denver Post, which apparently continues its editorial policy of suppressing information that might upset its highest-paying – $1.6M/year – tenants) around the state in the aftermath of this year’s judicial retention elections (which gained attention not just in Colorado – again, largely excepting the Postbut in national news reports).

The big news for CTBC – and of course from our perspective the most welcome news – was last week’s confirmation by Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Robert Spencer that “Colorado Ethics Watch” (CEW, pronounced “sue” – it’s what they do) was ordered to pay Clear The Bench Colorado over $13,000 in legal fees stemming from their “substantially groundless and frivolous” campaign finance complaint against CTBC (originally filed in May 2010).

The story was first reported online in Law Week Colorado (a generally reliable observer and source of information regarding the Colorado legal-judicial scene) on 15 December (“Ethics Watch Must Pay Attorney Fees In Clear The Bench Case“).  The Law Week article summarizes the judgement, provides some background on the complaint, and provides the full text of the ALJ ruling ordering CEW to pay Clear The Bench Colorado.

Also covering the story on 15 December was leading Colorado political online news outlet Face The State (publishing within an hour or so of the Law Week article).  The Face The State article (“Self-styled ethics watchdog slapped with the tab for its legal attack“) adds context and background information on CEW, CEW’s complaints, and CEW’s history of filing harassment claims (along with a copy of the judge’s order for Colorado Ethics Watch to pay Clear The Bench Colorado’s legal fees in pdf format).

Picking up the story on Friday, Denver’s alternative weekly Westword (often a source of excellent investigative journalism) covered the issue in a bit more depth (landing some quotes from the loser, CEW’s Luis Toro): “Colorado Ethics Watch told to pay Clear the Bench Colorado $13,000 in legal fees.”  CEW signaled their intent to “keep on doing what we’re doing” despite the legal rebuke.  (Surprise!)

Other news coverage of Clear The Bench Colorado concerns the ongoing campaign finance complaint against the legal-establishment special-interest consortium behind the “Know Your Judge” Campaign in support of Colorado’s judicial incumbents in this year’s retention elections.  Again, Face The State was on top of the story noting that former Colorado Speaker of the House Terrance Carroll (D-Denver) is on the legal team “defending a consortium of legal groups accused of violating state campaign laws.”  The article (“Your witness, Mr. Speaker“) notes that the “Know Your Judge” Campaign (consisting of nonprofit groups The League of Women Voters, the Colorado Bar Association, the Colorado Judicial Institute, and the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System) may have “illegally campaigned for the justices’ retention by not filing with the state as a political committee.”

Face The State‘s article was also picked up by Law Week (published as “Outgoing Speaker Will Handle Election-Law Case“).  Both articles noted:

At the heart of the complaint was a website funded by the groups called Know Your Judge, which led visitors to information explicitly recommending retention. They also paid for radio and television advertisements.

As detailed earlier by Face the State, if the complaint is upheld, a judge can levy fines of $50 per day for late reporting, plus a fine of between $170,000 and $425,000.

If successful (the case has now been set for hearing on 23 February 2010, thanks to delays generated by a barrage of legal maneuvering by the former Speaker’s “politically connected” law firm team from Greenberg Traurig) the combined fines and penalties would represent the largest adjudicated Campaign Finance Law violations in the history of Colorado.

In Other News…

The big news about the Colorado Supreme Court was the accession of the newest justice, Monica Marquez, to replace outgoing Chief Justice Mary Mullarkey (who wasn’t voted out, but chose to resign before facing the voters in this year’s retention elections).  While the accession of a new justice to the Colorado Supreme Court is certainly newsworthy,  the number of news stories referencing the ethnicity and sexual orientation of the Colorado Supreme Court’s newest justice – a matter which should be of supreme indifference in assessing judicial qualifications, character, temperament, and performance – continues to be astounding.

From the Denver Post’s article (“Colorado Supreme Court milestone a family affair“) - which at least has the good taste to lead first with the human-interest family connection before bringing up her ethnicity and sexual orientation – to a veritable plethora of blogs, journals, and other media – the phrase “Marquez is the first Latina and the first openly gay jurist on the state’s high court” comes up again and again.  A representative sample:

…and a host of other niche publications (I got tired of counting after the first half-dozen or so).

One of these days it would be nice to focus on a jurist’s qualifications and performance rather than the distractions of ethnicity and sexual orientation.

As far as CTBC is concerned the jury is still out on Justice Marquez’s performance, although we remain skeptical that she was the most-qualified of the potential picks, and continue to harbor concerns about her background in advocating for several unconstitutional rulings in the past few years.  She deserves – and should get – a fair review with careful scrutiny given her track record (as an attorney; she’s never before been a judge) and circumstances of her selection to the state’s highest court.

Fortunately, voters will have the opportunity to render judgement on Justice Marquez’ performance in two short years, as she comes up for a retention vote in November 2012.

Although this year’s campaign (and election) is over, the fight to reform Colorado’s out-of-control legal/judicial complex continues.  In the near term, Clear The Bench Colorado is working to hold the consortium of legal-establishment special-interest groups who attempted (and may have succeeded in) buying the election for their buddies on the bench accountable for their violations of Colorado campaign finance law.  Longer term, Clear The Bench Colorado will work with legislators and others interested in reforming the systemic shortcomings of Colorado’s “merit selection & retention” system to increase transparency and accountability to the public.  For both of those endeavors, we would appreciate 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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