12 November 2016

One Colorado Judge Not Retained

Periodically, all Colorado judges face retention elections. This year all state voters considered one State Supreme Court Justice and ten Court of Appeals judges (all eleven of which were recommended for retention). Voters considered a total of 61 District Court judges on a district by district basis of which two of the sixty-one District Court judges facing retention elections were recommended for retention, an two receive "do not retain" recommendations.  And, voters considered on a county by county basis, thirty-five County Court judges, all of whom were recommended for retention. In all, 107 judges faced retention elections this year, but only two were not recommended for retention.

The longest judicial retention election ballot was in Denver, where voters considered all 11 appellate judges and 18 district and county court judges, all 29 of whom were recommended for retention. El Paso County voters considered 9 district and county court judges, Jefferson County voters considered 8, Arapahoe and Adams County voters considered 7, Douglas, Elbert, Lincoln, Teller and Broomfield county voters considered 6, Larimer County voters considered 5, Clear Creek, Eagle, Lake, Summit, Mesa and Weld County voters considered 4, and voters in each of the other 46 counties in Colorado considered three or fewer District and County Court judges.

Just two of the judges facing retention this year were given "do not retain" recommendations and one was retained anyway. Just three of the last ten judges recommended to not retain were removed (receiving an average 54 percent of the vote). According to 9News:
Judge Jill-Ellyn Straus will lose her job as judge in the 17th judicial district (Adams & Broomfield counties) when her current term on the bench ends in January. 52 percent of voters decided to give Straus the boot. Her review flagged concerns about her demeanor in court and gave her poor marks on fairness and communication. More than 177,000 cast votes on the question of retaining Straus. 
The other Colorado judge to earn a “do not retain” recommendation in the state’s official voter guide kept his job. Fifty-seven percent of voters in Southeast Colorado chose to keep 16th district (Bent, Crowley, and Otero counties) judge Michael Schiferl despite a review that found he appeared to chummy with the people in his courtroom along with poor legal writing and a lack of willingness to accept constructive criticism. Fewer than 8,000 voters cast votes in Schiferl’s more rural district. 
The Case For Reform Of Judicial Retention Elections

Routine judicial retention election races clutter the ballot and reduce scrutiny of judges who really need it.

I would favor a change to the system in which judicial retention is only placed on the ballot in cases (1) where judges receive a "no recommendation" or "do not retain" recommendation, (2) a supervising appellate court asks that a judge be placed on the ballot, (3) there is a petition to put a particular judge on the ballot, or (4) a majority of relevant politicians (a majority of either house of the state legislature for appellate judges, a majority of county commissioners in the judge's district for most judges, and a majority of city council for Denver District Court, Denver Probate Court, Denver Juvenile Court, or Denver County Court judges) request that a particular judge be placed on the ballot. 

No politician who is entitled to appoint judges would have a say on eligibility for retention and the ultimate decision to retain or not would remain in the hand of voters.

This would dramatically shorten the ballot with virtually no change in outcomes, while focusing public attention on the judges whose performance actually does need to be reviewed. There are extremely few (if any) cases where a judge recommended for retention has not been retained, and no appellate judge in Colorado has ever not been retained.

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