June 26, 2019

Archives for May 1, 2014

Law Day 2014: American Democracy and the Rule of Law — Why Every Vote Matters

ChrisBryanIn honor of Law Day, this article will be circulated to all local bar leaders. We encourage you to distribute it to your local media and any other interested parties as well.

By Christopher Bryan

Colorado, like the rest of the United States, celebrates Law Day on May 1. The American Bar Association has designated today as Law Day to draw attention to facets of our justice system and constitutional form of government. The 2014 theme is “American Democracy and the Rule of Law: Why Every Vote Matters.”

Here in Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley, and in western Colorado generally, we know first-hand the importance of every single vote. Small towns—whether in Colorado’s resort communities or in more rural areas—have had numerous elections decided by a few votes or even a single vote. We know that voter turnout matters not only to determine who our elected leaders will be but also because a highly engaged citizenry that votes and participates in representative democracy means stronger communities, more robust ideas, and, ultimately, a better future for everyone.

Protecting citizens’ right to vote and ensuring eligible voters’ universal access to the ballot are among the most important tasks of our legal system, and they are tasks that many people in our community are involved with—from city staff, county clerks, and elected officials, to the election commissioners, poll watchers, and election judges who volunteer their time to ensure proper elections. Watchdog organizations, lawyers’ committees, and civil liberties groups are also important in ensuring legal access to the ballot for everyone, including minorities and under-served populations, and for the orderly administration of processing elections. And, of course, everything depends on voters being well-informed about candidates and issues they vote on, and going to the polls or mailing in their filled-out ballots on time.

So that “every vote matters,” we must be vigilant in ensuring that the “rule of law” remains intact. In Aspen, in Colorado, and throughout the United States, the “rule of law” depends on an intelligent, independent judiciary that safeguards the rights of everyone and applies the law equally. Every schoolchild knows that the judicial branch is a co-equal branch of government in our three-part system of checks and balances. But Law Day is a particularly appropriate day to recognize the difficult and important role that judges serve in our society.

The federal district, bankruptcy, and appellate judges and magistrates who serve Colorado are an impressive bunch: smart, even-tempered, scrupulous, respectful of the truth, and fair to all sides. Under Article III of the Constitution, federal judges appointed to district court and appellate court judgeships are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate; they enjoy lifetime appointments, ended only by impeachment, resignation, or death. Bankruptcy court judges and magistrates are appointed for time-determined terms. Unlike many federal districts throughout the country, Colorado is lucky to have a highly functional federal judiciary with no vacant judgeships, which slow down the administration of justice for everyone.

Our state court judges deserve special mention, for they are the ones who most people in Colorado encounter when they are summoned to jury duty, appear at a hearing to testify, or attend trial as a party. The county, district, and appellate state court judges in Colorado work incredibly hard, day in and day out, with dedicated but over-stretched support staff members, limited resources, and ever-expanding civil and criminal dockets. Our state court judges are the ones who decide every legal matter brought in state court: probate, family law and divorce cases, drunk driving, domestic abuse, sexual assault, violent crimes, theft, fraud, property fights, municipal and water matters, business disputes, and civil litigation, among many others. By definition, our state court judges must be highly knowledgeable in all areas of the law; be proficient in the rules of evidence and procedure; be able to discern untruthful testimony, pick apart attorneys’ arguments; make litigants, jurors, and lay witnesses feel at ease; and maintain decorum in a sometimes seemingly chaotic courtroom.

In Colorado, we have an appointment/retention system for placing judges. A judicial nominating commission (consisting of several lawyers and even more non-lawyers) from each judicial district interviews and vets applicants for district court judgeships. The commission then nominates three finalists to the governor, who conducts his own review process. The governor appoints a judge to a provisional two-year term. Thereafter, the judge stands for retention by the voters for an additional six-year term. County court judges stand for retention every four years. Judges standing for retention are thoroughly reviewed and scrutinized by a local judicial performance commission, whose members vote for or against retention. This process avoids lifetime appointments and allows voters to remove ill-behaving or under-performing judges but does not subject our judges to the indignities of judicial elections and ensures steadiness in the judiciary by avoiding high turnover.

Some states elect judges, which politicizes the judiciary. In judicial-election states, candidates for judgeships have to “run” against one another, raise money from lawyers and special interest groups, and serve under the common impression that their rulings reward their benefactors. Other states impose strict term limits on judges, robbing their citizens of experienced judges who often are at their very best toward the end of their judicial career.

In the Ninth Judicial District, encompassing Pitkin, Garfield, and Rio Blanco counties, we are lucky to have exemplary judges. Our county court judges are perhaps the most visible, as they process a high number of misdemeanor criminal cases each year and hear hundreds of small claims and county court civil cases. Our five district court judges—Chief Judge Boyd, Judge Petre, Judge Lynch, Judge Nichols, and Judge Neiley—are all popular, diligent, thoughtful judges with sharp intellects and commensurate work ethics. They have been faced with one of the busiest dockets in Colorado, and the counties they represent are among the fastest growing in population. Their jobs are among the most difficult anywhere, and they have earned the right to be called “Your Honor.”

On this Law Day, take a moment to be thankful that we live in a nation where “every vote matters,” where the “rule of law” governs. Be glad you live in a state where judges serve the public interest. Be proud that you live in a community with judges who treat everyone with dignity, respect, fairness, and equality.

Chris Bryan is an Aspen attorney and the president of the Pitkin County Bar Association. 

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 4/30/2014

On Wednesday, April 30, 2014, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued no published opinion and 10 unpublished opinions.

Cleveland v. Stuart

United States v. Stacy

United States v. Exom

United States v. Peel

Ridgell-Boltz v. Colvin

United States v. Zamora-Marquez

Merrell v. Allred

Beltran-Rubio v. Holder

Naves v. Bigelow

United States v. Bazuaye

Case summaries are not provided for unpublished opinions. However, published opinions are summarized and provided by Legal Connection.