28 May 2008

Judicial Discipline in Colorado

The June edition of "The Colorado Lawyer" magazine has the annual (2007) report of the Colorado Commission on Judical Discipline, a typical one.

There were 211 cases involving 198 judges out of 350 judges. These broke down as 155 criminal case complaints, 38 civil case complaints, 16 domestic relations case complaints, and 2 off-the-bench conduct/disability complaints. Of the 211 complaints, 148 were brought by inmates against the judges who handled their cases.

One complaint was a judge's self-report, one was initiated by the commission, four were by people not involved, and the other 205 were by litigants in the case. All but two complaints were classified as appellate in nature (of which only two were investigated, in addition to the other two cases)

One case produced a private disciplinary sanction. Last year there were two private sanctions, the year before there were three. Reading between the lines, the private disciplinary sanction probably came in the self-reported case, and the commission initiated case was probably a medical disability case that produced a medical retirement.

In the past forty-one years, 26 judges have been ordered to retire for a disability, 169 private letters of admonition, reprimand or censure have been issued (can one imagine a more timid punishment?), and there has been one public reprimand. In addition 49 judges have retired or resigned during investigations, some culpably and some not.

The Commission claims in its annual report that it "performs a vital role in maintaining a fair and impartial judiciary." The reality is rather more modest. Basically, the Commission appeals to the consciences of judges who behave badly to do the right thing of their own accord and is the designated messenger to tell judges that the time has come for them to retire due to disability. The Commission also gives uphappy litigants a futile place to vent. The Commission also runs judicial ethics classes.

The Commission is worth the infinitessimal sum that is spent operating it. We'd be worse without it, and the threat that it could exercise its power more dramatically (it can recommend public discipline or removal of a judge from office to the Colorado Supreme Court) has a certain force. But, it is still largely ineffectual at addressing the problem of problem judges. The vast majority of judges in the past 41 years have been good ones, but the disciplinary numbers from the Commission vastly understate the problem.


Anonymous said...

Where is your evidence for your bold (perhaps, melodramatic) declaration that "the disciplinary numbers from the Commission vastly understate the problem"? It's certainly not in your post.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

That is the subject of another post, when I can figure out how to word it delicately and accurately while still practicing law in the courts on a regular basis.

On medical disability, the Commission comes reasonably close to addressing a good share of the problem.

I also don't think that there is a great degree of out and out bribery and corruption (and those cases when discovered produce quick resignations).

But more than 0.3% of judges in the state engage in the kind of intemperate conduct and injudicious behavior that is suitable for private reprimand, and a judge who has that kind of problem almost always is a chronic offender. For example, a review of the judicial performance commission ratings each year strongly hints at judges with these kinds of problems in numbers that far exceed the rate of Commission sanctions.

Anonymous said...

Where is the evidence? How about looking at some actual complaints and some actual responses from the Commission for the Abolition of Judicial Discipline (pun intended) found here?

Mario said...


I've been involved with civil cases in Pitkin Co. and in Denver Co. I filed complaints with the OARC and the commission of the lack of Judaical Discipline. All the while the defendants, 2 lawyers, in the video, who stole our patent, where not required after 2 bench orders to compel to turn over relevant documents got off. Yet in case happening in the same court at the same time, the judge holds the defendant in contempt 30 days after the order to comply was issued. To this date they are in contempt to the tune of over $10,000,000.00 ! [http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/21/movies/21bergman.html?_r=1]

Of coarse there is quid pro quo / bribery going on.

Just view this tape of the documented crimes. You decide...