Judging Judges by Charles E. Corry, Ph.D.


 

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Index

Judicial appointments

Judicial performance evaluations

Mechanics of the process

Reality of the evaluations

Citizen's role

Appraisal of judges in Colorado state courts

Courtwatching


 

Judicial appointments

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Colorado judges are appointed by the governor, 1 generally on the basis of political favoritism and cronyism. Should the governor fail, or decline to appoint a judge from the three candidates presented to him by a judicial nominating commission, after a time the chief justice of the Colorado Supreme Court may appoint a judge under the Colorado Constitution, a provision that is seldom used.

However, there is general agreement that selection processes for judges typically works quite well and usually outstanding candidates are picked. There are, at times, biases built into the selection process that somewhat undermine it, e.g., a governor who only picks prosecutors for the bench who lack experience with civil law and real world experience, but even then most attorneys selected to mount the bench are quite good.

But the step from a practicing attorney, who is a partisan advocate only defending one side of a case in an adversarial system, to becoming an impartial jurist weighing both sides of an issue against often obscure- and poorly-worded laws, the cause of justice, both federal and state Constitutions, or other overarching documents, is huge. As in any profession, not all attorneys are able to climb to that rung successfully, i.e., the Peter Principle. Often the longer they sit on the bench judges develop what is known as Black Robe Disease . As they age judges also develop the same physical and mental problems common to all humanity. And, unfortunately, some become corrupt and criminal.

Worldwide the question of how to remove corrupt and incompetent judges from the bench frequently occurs. Unfortunately, I have no universal answer. Below, I take a look at the problem in Colorado in the United States. But what might, and I emphasize might, work in Colorado state courts may be of little use to you.

Still, we must start somewhere...

 

1. Except for county judges in Denver.


 

Judicial performance evaluations

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75 to 90 percent of American trial lawyers are incompetent, dishonest, or both.

Chief Justice Warren Burger

U.S. Supreme Court

If you ask any honest attorney (there are a few) they will tell you our courts are dysfunctional. Too many laws, too many cases, too much cronyism, too many bad judges, too much gender bias, etc. However, by statute there are periodic reviews of judges designed to weed out the bad ones.

In each of Colorado's twenty-two judicial districts, district and county judges stand for retention after their first two years on the bench and every four (county judges) or six years (district judges) thereafter in a November general election in even years within their judicial district or the county where they serve. Colorado Supreme Court justices serve ten year terms and then can stand for retention in a statewide election or step down. Judges on the Court of Appeals serve eight year terms and then face a retention vote in a statewide election. Judges stand unopposed where the question on the ballot for each judge is "Shall Judge ____ of Court _____ be retained in office Yes ___ No ___"

Colorado has a statewide Office of Judicial Performance Evaluations for Supreme and Appeals Court Justices. District and county court judges are evaluated by judicial performance commissions established in each of the twenty-two Judicial Districts. Information on the performance of individual judges in Colorado is then assembled by the Office of Judicial Performance Evaluation from each judicial district when a judge comes up for retention. That site allows a search by the name of the judge. One can also dig through semi-annual reviews dating back to 1998.

These judicial performance commissions make a determination of whether they feel, and quantitative standards do not exist, judges in state courts should be retained or not retained. In effect they tell the public how commissioners think citizens should vote for each judge after a subjective analysis of their performance.

These reviews are almost always a whitewash of a judge's performance.

Mechanics of the process

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As each judge nears the end of their current term a judicial performance evaluation commission undertakes a performance review based on fairly standard criteria. These commissions were created by the Colorado legislature in 1988. According to statute, C.R.S. § 13-5.5-101 et seq., these criteria include at least the following: integrity; legal knowledge; communication skills; judicial temperament; administrative performance; and service to the legal profession and the public, although other issues may be brought forward.

The Chief Justice, the Governor, the President of the Senate, and the Speaker of the House appoint state and local commission members for each of the twenty-two judicial districts to four-year terms. Each commission is a ten-member body comprised of four attorneys and six non-attorneys.

These commissions consider responses to anonymous surveys sent to attorneys and non-attorneys who had been in the judges courtroom, unannounced courtroom visitations by commission members, a self-evaluation, a personal interview with the judge, and other information in reaching their recommendation for each judge.

If a judge is retained after their initial evaluation approximately two years after taking the bench, preliminary surveys of a judge's performance are taken three years and one year before they stand for retention again, plus another survey the year in which they will go before voters and on which the commission will base its final recommendation. So long as they remain on the bench that process is repeated each time they stand for retention.

Judges whose term is expiring are placed on the ballot in even years. Typically there are about 80-100 judges statewide standing for retention. Supreme and Appeals court judge's names are placed on the ballot statewide. Names of judges in judicial districts are placed on the ballots of the counties within that district.

Reality of the evaluations

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In practice these judicial commissions very rarely reach any recommendation about a judge except "Retain." Judicial performance evaluations are on the web from 1998 through 2012. In those fourteen years roughly 1,200 judges have been evaluated yet only five (5) have been rated "Do Not Retain," and two, Karla Hansen in the 4 th Judicial District (El Paso and Teller counties) and Jill Mattoon in the 10 th Judicial District (Pueblo County), remains on the bench despite their negative ratings.

Now in any business or enterprise one expects to find about 5-10% incompetence, drunkenness, criminal activity, moral turpitude, or mentally-disturbed individuals, and all these types of behavior by Colorado judges are documented in this chapter. Thus, as a very rough estimate, between 1998 and 2012 these commissions should have found about 60-120 judges unfit to remain on the bench and issued a "Do Not Retain" recommendation. That is a far cry from the five actually so rated.

The evidence is clear that unless a judge has committed rape, murder, or is obviously demented, the judicial performance commission is going to find they should be retained on the bench.

Despite the fact that the information posted for the public is basically a whitewash these commissions do gather a great deal of information about individual judges. Prior to the November 2012 election I was looking for a way to use what data are available for a more uniform, quantitative, and easily understood evaluation when a former judge reminded me of an October 13, 2002, Rocky Mountain News editorial (available here). In their conclusion of that editorial they made the following recommendation:

"...if less than 75 percent of attorneys surveyed thought a judge should be retained, or more than 15 percent thought he or she should not be, voters might consider rejecting the judge no matter what the commissions recommend. (At the very least they should treat the scores as a red flag and review the judges' entire record.)"

I found the Rocky Mountain News recommendation quite interesting and decided to try it out in comparison with the judicial performance evaluations of judges standing for retention in the November 2012 election. I then compiled a table of all 90 Colorado judges then standing for retention in which I compared the judicial performance evaluations with how attorneys had voted to retain or not retain, and posted an EJF recommendation based on the Rocky Mountain News editorial suggestion. The results are presented here.

The basic assumption is that there are no better judges of a judge than the attorneys who regularly appear before them. So my table provides a comparison of judges based on the percent of attorneys who voted to retain and not to retain. Where it was broken out in the Judicial Performance Evaluation the percentages tabulated are of those attorneys expressing an opinion to retain or not to retain, which is usually a smaller group than the total number of attorneys who submitted evaluations, as some were undecided or didn't have enough information to make a recommendation on a particular judge.

However, due to apparent "grade Inflation" I found it more informative to use slightly different metrics than the Rocky Mountain News suggested in 2002 for the evaluation of the ninety judges standing for retention in 2012. For an EJF evaluation and recommendation to "Retain" I suggest that in comparing ratings with all other judges, retention is only merited if >85% of the attorneys who submitted an evaluation expressed an opinion to retain. I consider the Rocky Mountain News suggestion of >15% of attorneys recommending "Do Not Retain" to remain a valid criteria and submit that if just 80 to 85% of the attorneys expressed an opinion to retain that the judge's performance is marginal at best. For judges who attorneys gave a less than an 80% "Retain" rating the EJF evaluation is "Do Not Retain" as their performance is clearly substandard compared to their peers and as evaluated by members of the bar.

To validate the proposed criteria I've reviewed and summarized in this chapter the evaluations of all sitting judges and many retired ones as well for the period 1998-2012. Since the majority of judges during this period received a recommendation to retain from 90% or more of the attorneys, and many judges received 100% of the attorneys votes to retain, a lower cutoff for retention of 80% fits the available data quite well. Certainly any judge who receives less than 80% of support from attorneys does not merit a recommendation to retain and the performance of any judge who 15% or more of attorneys recommend "Do Not Retain" is marginal at best.

By this standard I suggested that sixteen judges (18%) should not be retained as compared to the ridiculously low standard of the statewide commissions on judicial performance who only rated one county judge as "Do Not Retain." And that judge, with a 72% retain rating by attorneys in the 4 th Judicial District, isn't even notably low as compared with a number of other judges who attorneys only gave "Retain" ratings in the 50-60% range.

Thus, the EJF is clearly justified in stating that jurists with such low ratings by the attorneys, both prosecutors and defense, criminal and civil, who appear before them should not be retained on the bench in this state. And the current percentage of jurists who should be removed is so high because of accumulated deadwood on the bench due to the failure of the judicial performance review commissions to make honest recommendations during the course of its existence.

The performance of another thirteen state jurists (14%) have been rated marginal on the same basis.

Conversely, attorneys in 2012 found that we have some truly outstanding jurists on the bench in Colorado. Among these are Jefferson County Judge K. J. Moore in the 1 st Judicial District who attorneys gave a 98% approval rating, in the 2 nd Judicial District Denver County Judge Doris Burd received a 99% approval rating, and from personal observation I would concur with that rating. In the tiny (population 22, 218) 3 rd Judicial District attorneys were unanimous on retaining Huerfano County Judge Gary Stork, and 7 th Judicial District Hinsdale County Judge Alvin Lutz also received 100% of the attorney's votes to retain. In the 8 th Judicial District Larimer County Judge Christine Carney garnered a 98% vote of confidence, as contrasted with Judge Schultz who got the lowest score (56%) of any judge in 2012. Adams County Judge Leroy Kirby in the 17 th Judicial District got a 99% vote of confidence from members of the bar. In the largest judicial district, the 18 th , Arapahoe County Judge Addison Adams garnered a 98% approval rating.

Altogether, in 2012 forty three (48%) of the ninety judges standing for retention were given a vote to retain of 90% or more by attorneys who took the time and effort to rate them. These outstanding ratings by members of the bar reinforces the fairness of the criteria originally suggested in 2002 by the Rocky Mountain News editors.

Where a number of judges are standing for retention in the same judicial district it also useful to make comparisons between how attorneys rated the different judges in that district. That is particularly apparent in the 18 th Judicial District, the largest in the state, where the performance of District Judge Cross (94%) stands out while district judges Antrim (78%), Horton (64%), and Spear (67%) are pathetic in comparison. Among county judges in the 18 th the performances of judges Adams (98%) and Brencze (91%) are outstanding, especially when compared to Judge Chauche (79%).

However, in the 2012 election voters retained all 90 judges.

 

Citizen's role

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None of the above is of any value if citizens fail to follow through and vote the bums out.

In elections voters apparently do not pay much, if any attention to the judicial performance reviews. Of the roughly 75% of voters who take the time to vote on judges, about two thirds vote to retain regardless, and one third vote to remove irrespective of how the performance commission rated the judge.

But that does not excuse the dismal performance of the judicial review commissions.

Appraisal of judges in Colorado state courts

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There are those who believe in America's justice system and those who have experience with it.

As reviewed above the judicial review process has proven to be largely a rubber stamp and whitewash.

• In 2008 of 105 judges up for retention only one was rated Do Not Retain. Although in this case Judy Archuleta, First Judicial District, was voted out in the November 2008 election. Note that only 44% of attorneys had voted to retain her.

• In 2010 only one judge, Jill Mattoon in the Tenth Judicial District was rated Do Not Retain but voters kept her anyway. However, two district judges, Jolene Blair and Terence Gilmore, who the commission voted to Retain in the Eighth Judicial District were voted out by voters angry over the fact that the corruption of the law by these two had cost Larimer County at least $10 million.

• In 2012 only one judge, Karla Hansen, in the Fourth Judicial District was rated Do Not Retain but voters kept her anyway. In fact, voters retained all ninety judges under review for that year.

It is extremely rare for a judge to be voted off the bench.

Thus, these "elections" have become a mockery. Failure to take action to deal with problem judges, particularly in "family" courts, has resulted in growing anger and disgust among the citizenry.

With regard to these semiannual "retention" votes consider the following letter to the editor of the Denver Post by Herbert Cooper published October 29, 2008 (p. 14B):


 

A retention rate of zero might be more fitting

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"[Former Colorado Supreme Court justice] Rebecca Love Kourlis urges voters to acquaint themselves with the judges who are seeking retention. Toward what end, she doesn't say, but she's obviously not skeptical about a retention rate of nearly 100 percent. That much I can glean from the fact that she refers us to the state's 'robust judicial performance evaluation program,' which is robustly skewed in favor of the establishment.

Meanwhile, our justice system cries out for reform. The criminal courts are plea-bargaining bazaars. Tort litigation takes more out of our pockets than sales taxes. Bankruptcy courts are there to rubber stamp bankruptcy fraud. Probate courts are there to loot Granny's assets. Restraining orders are there to complicate the lives of the innocent. Lawyers are there to impoverish us. And to make a long story short, careerism and expediency are there to trump the law and the facts.

I speak as a voter who has acquainted himself with our justice system through sources that expose its deficiencies, rather than obfuscating them. And I would urge fellow voters to consider whether a retention rate of zero might not be more fitting, for judges as a class have been willfully deficient in their role as gatekeepers of that system."


 

Courtwatching

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For those citizens who would like to have an individual impact on a judge's performance, or who don't live in Colorado, we have found a citizen sitting in the courtroom and taking notes is probably the most effective thing an individual can do to improve our courts. Courtwatching has an immediate, and usually beneficial impact on judicial behavior, and helps reduce the outrages of child protective services (CPS) as well.

Feedback from many sources tell us that the EJF judicial performance and courtwatching forms have been widely useful in monitoring courts and CPS all across America.

In Colorado completed forms are linked to the individual judge in this chapter. It is suggested groups in other states and countries may want to post their own tabulation of judges to link citizen evaluations to. Where there is risk of retaliation against the citizen such links are made anonymously if at all possible.

Many of the cases presented against judges in the following sections on each judicial district are also documented in the book Exposed! Tyranny On The Bench In Colorado. For additional information on corruption in Colorado courts we recommend that book.

The following section outlines how you can document and publicize corrupt judges when the State won't!

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| Chapter 7 — Colorado Judges — Citizen's Review |

| Next — Submitting your case for listing |

| Back —Introduction To Citizen's Review Of Colorado Judges |


 

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Added 11/4/12

Last modified 10/5/14