May 21, 2019

Judge Evaluations Available Online for 146 Judges Standing for Retention

The Colorado State Judicial Branch announced last week that judicial evaluations are now available online for Colorado’s 146 judges standing for retention in 2014. These evaluations were carefully prepared by Colorado’s Commission on Judicial Performance and local judicial performance commissions, and will be mailed to all voters this fall in the “Blue Book.”

The Commissions on Judicial Performance were created by Colorado’s legislature in 1988 in order to provide fair, responsible, and constructive evaluations of Colorado’s trial court and appellate judges and justices. Local judicial performance commissions consist of four attorneys and six non-attorneys. Volunteer commissioners are appointed by the Colorado Chief Justice, Governor, President of the Senate, and Speaker of the House for four-year terms. Commission workers take their work seriously and strive to create honest, fair, and reliable assessments of all judges standing for retention. Trial judges’ evaluations are developed with surveys of random samplings of people who appear in their courtrooms, including attorneys, jurors, litigants, court employees, and law enforcement personnel. Judges also complete self-evaluations that are used in the evaluation process. Appellate judge evaluations are developed by surveys of attorneys, court employees, other appellate judges, and other lower court judges, as well as self-evaluations, courtroom statistics, and personal observations by commission members.

To see the recommendations of the Commission on Judicial Performance regarding all 146 judges standing for retention, click here.

New C.J.E.A.B. Opinion States Judges Cannot Ethically Use Marijuana

On Thursday, July 31, 2014, the Colorado State Judicial Branch released Colorado Judicial Ethics Advisory Board (C.J.E.A.B.) Opinion 2014-01, advising Colorado judges that because marijuana is still illegal under federal laws, any use of marijuana violates Rule 1.1 of the Canon of Judicial Conduct.

The C.J.E.A.B. consists of judges and non-judges who provide advice on ethical issues to judicial officers who request an opinion. Any judicial officer in Colorado may request an opinion from the Board. Once the request is received, the C.J.E.A.B. will consider whether to research the question and issue an opinion regarding the propriety of the proposed conduct and the ethical issues presented.

The question raised in Opinion 2014-01 was whether a judge may use marijuana privately and in a manner consistent with the Colorado Constitution in light of the legalization of marijuana in Colorado. The C.J.E.A.B. decided that because marijuana is still illegal under federal law, using marijuana even in a manner consistent with Colorado law is more than a minor violation of the law and constitutes a violation of Rule 1.1 of the Canon of Judicial Conduct. The C.J.E.A.B. decided that virtually every violation of Colorado law is a violation of the CJC, because the exceptions delineated by the committee that crafted the CJCs were extremely minor, such as parking tickets. Further, because drug- and alcohol-related offenses were specifically mentioned as not falling under the exception, the C.J.E.A.B. determined that a judge’s use of marijuana is not a minor violation of law.

Click here for the full text of Opinion 2014-01 and click here for all of the C.J.E.A.B. opinions.

New Members Needed for Colorado Commission on Judicial Performance

The Colorado Office of Judicial Performance Evaluation seeks individuals to fill vacancies for judicial performance evaluations in all 22 of Colorado’s judicial districts, as well as for the statewide commission that evaluates Colorado Supreme Court justices and Colorado Court of Appeals judges.

Commissions on Judicial Performance are non-partisan groups consisting of attorney and non-attorney volunteers who evaluate the performance of judicial officers based on established criteria. According to statute, those criteria include integrity, legal knowledge, communication skills, judicial temperament, administrative performance, and service to the legal profession and the public. The findings of the Commissions are provided to Colorado voters, who decide whether to retain judges during the general election.

More information about the Commissions on Judicial Performance may be found here. Questions can be directed to Kent Wagner, Executive Director of the Office of Judicial Performance Evaluation, at (303) 928-7779. For a list of vacancies, click here.

 

New Study Examines Overlooked Process for Selecting Key Federal Judges

Quality Judges, an initiative of IAALS, the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System at the University of Denver, has just released A Credit to the Courts: The Selection, Appointment, and Reappointment Process for Bankruptcy Judges. This study provides the first in-depth examination of the process for selecting U.S. bankruptcy judges, highlighting the similarities and differences among the regional circuits.

Unlike other federal judges, bankruptcy judges are not appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. Since 1984, they have been chosen by the judges of the federal circuit in which they will serve. According to U.S. Judicial Conference regulations, the judicial council in each federal circuit may appoint a merit selection panel to review applications for bankruptcy judge vacancies and make recommendations regarding potential nominees to the council. But until now, no empirical study has explored whether the judicial councils use such panels, who serves on these panels, and how the panels’ screening processes work.

“Despite the number of cases processed in these high-volume courts, and their significance in the financial lives of individuals and businesses alike, very little was known about how the judges who preside over these courts come to be on the bench,” said Malia Reddick, Director of the Quality Judges Initiative at IAALS.

The IAALS study is based on interviews with 25 bankruptcy judges and 11 participants in the selection process—including circuit and district judges, bankruptcy practitioners, and academics, as well as questionnaires completed by the 12 regional circuit executives.

Researchers learned that the judicial council in every circuit uses a merit selection panel in screening applicants for bankruptcy judge vacancies, but these panels vary extensively in composition and operation. For instance, while merit selection panels in some circuits are composed only of judges, other circuits exclude judges from participating on these panels. Panels also range in size from three to nine members. Additional differences, as well as similarities, in bankruptcy judge selection processes across the circuits are highlighted in the report.

Participants were unanimous in praising the products of the selection process. As one now-chief bankruptcy judge who has been on the bench for more than two decades summed it up: “They generally pick the best person, and it truly is merit selection. I’m proud of the way bankruptcy judges are selected. To me it is the best merit selection process we have.”

Quality Judges is an initiative of IAALS dedicated to advancing empirically informed models for choosing, evaluating, and retaining judges that preserve impartiality and accountability.

IAALS, the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System at the University of Denver, is a national, independent research center dedicated to continuous improvement of the process and culture of the civil justice system.

Alli Gerkman is Director of Communications for IAALS, the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System at the University of Denver. IAALS is a national, independent research center dedicated to continuous improvement of the process and culture of the civil justice system.

The opinions and views expressed by Featured Bloggers on CBA-CLE Legal Connection do not necessarily represent the opinions and views of the Colorado Bar Association, the Denver Bar Association, or CBA-CLE, and should not be construed as such.

Colorado Judicial Institute Seeks Nominations for 2013 Judicial Excellence Awards

The Colorado Judicial Institute is accepting nominations for the 2013 Judicial Excellence Awards. There are three Judicial Excellence Awards: one for a district court judge, one for a county court judge, and one for a magistrate. Past recipients include Hon. Terry Ruckriegle, Hon. C. Jean Stewart, Chief Judge Robert S. Hyatt, and Chief Judge Roxanne Bailin.

Criteria for the district court judge award include: the judge must have five years of experience on the district court bench, be an innovator who creatively deals with courtroom processes, efficiently and expeditiously manage a docket, exemplify the highest standards of judicial excellence, and be recognized as respectful and even-handed by members of the bar and court personnel.

County court judge nominees must have five years of experience on the county court bench, efficiently and expeditiously manage court dockets, be recognized by their peers as respectful and even-handed, and be respected by other judges and court staff.

Magistrate award nominees must have three years of experience on the bench (full- or part-time), be able to explain the law in terms understandable to everyone in the courtroom, possess a demeanor that makes court accessible to all, have a high level of open communication, efficiently and expeditiously manage a docket, and be respected by other judges, lawyers, and staff.

Nomination forms are available on the Colorado Judicial Institute website. The nomination period closes on May 2, 2013.

Colorado Judicial Ethics Advisory Board Opinion: Judge Whose Daughter is Marrying Deputy DA Must Recuse from That Attorney’s Cases but May Preside Over Cases from Other Attorneys in Same Office

The Colorado Judicial Ethics Advisory Board issued C.J.E.A.B. Formal Opinion 2012-07 on October 31, 2012, finalized and effective October 29, 2012.

Opinion 2012-07 considered a situation where a judge’s daughter was in a relationship with a deputy district attorney in the judge’s district. The judge is a District Court judge whose docket includes criminal cases. Throughout the course if his daughter’s relationship, the judge recused himself from cases involving her boyfriend, and made a full advisement when other attorneys from that district attorney’s office appeared before him. Recently, his daughter became engaged to the deputy district attorney, and the judge requested an opinion on whether he must recuse from all cases involving the district attorney’s office, and also if he could serve as the weekly “duty judge” who reviews and approves search and arrest warrants.

The Judicial Ethics Advisory Board concluded that the judge must continue to recuse himself from any case in which the deputy district attorney who is engaged or married to his daughter appears, but he may preside over cases from other attorneys in the district attorney’s office, provided that his future son-in-law has no personal involvement in those cases and provided that he makes a full disclosure to all parties regarding the relationship.

The Judicial Ethics Advisory Board also determined that the judge can continue serving as the weekly “duty judge” as long as his future son-in-law is not involved with preparing or reviewing any of the search or arrest warrants and affidavits.

The Board considered relevant portions of the Code of Judicial Conduct in making its determination, particularly Rule 2.11(A)(1) and (2)(b), which require recusal when a judge has a personal bias or prejudice, and there is a familial relationship. The discussion also noted that the potential for impropriety is greater in the private sector than the public sector for financial and reputational reasons.

All of the Colorado Judicial Ethics Advisory Board opinions may be found here.

Judicial Performance Evaluation Results Released as Voter Tool in Judicial Races

This fall, judges are running in contestable elections in 32 states and standing in yes/no retention elections in 17 states. Judicial elections are typically low-information contests, where voters may cast their ballots based on party affiliation, name recognition, or ballot position rather than on qualifications and experience.

But in a handful of states, voters will have the benefit of broad-based and objective evaluations of incumbent judges’ performance on the bench and, in one state, of the judicial potential of their challengers. These states include Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Utah.

Each of these states has a judicial performance evaluation program, through which court users assess the legal ability, impartiality, temperament, and communication skills of the judges with whom they have interacted. Results of these surveys of court users are summarized and shared with voters, often in conjunction with objective data (e.g., reversal rates, case management statistics) and a voting recommendation.

Two recent polls highlight the need for readily available, nonpartisan information about judges running for reelection or standing for retention. In Indiana, where appellate judges and some trial judges stand for retention, a 2011 poll found that nearly one-third of respondents do not vote regularly in judicial elections, and the most common reason given for not always voting on judges is a lack of useful information. When asked whether they would find public performance evaluations helpful, two-thirds said it would be of great or some value.

Similarly, a 2012 voter poll in Minnesota—where judges run in contestable, nonpartisan elections—found that three-fourths of respondents would support the creation of a balanced public performance evaluation commission that would review judges’ performance and publish evaluation results.

“These polling results demonstrate that voters need more information to make informed decisions about the judges appearing on their ballots,” said Dr. Malia Reddick, director of the IAALS Quality Judges Initiative. “Judicial performance evaluation programs fill this void.”

“For more than three decades, the American Judicature Society has supported the use of judicial performance evaluation programs as a valuable informational tool for voters in judicial retention elections,” said AJS Executive Director Seth S. Andersen. “Surveys and exit polling demonstrate that voters use JPE results to make better-informed decisions on judges standing for retention. The key is to ensure that evaluation results are disseminated widely and are readily available to voters.”

“To be fair and impartial, judges must be protected from special interest and partisan influence while remaining accountable to the law and constitution,” said Bert Brandenburg, Executive Director of Justice at Stake. “By focusing on competence instead of ideology, JPE’s enable the public to choose fair, high-quality judges.”

Alli Gerkman is Director of Communications for IAALS, the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System at the University of Denver. IAALS is a national, independent research center dedicated to continuous improvement of the process and culture of the civil justice system. This post originally appeared on IAALS Online, the IAALS blog.

The opinions and views expressed by Featured Bloggers on CBA-CLE Legal Connection do not necessarily represent the opinions and views of the Colorado Bar Association, the Denver Bar Association, or CBA-CLE, and should not be construed as such.

“Know Your Judge” Website a Tool for Colorado Voters in Judicial Races

This November, in addition to executive and legislative candidates, Colorado voters will be deciding whether or not to retain Colorado judges. Under Colorado’s system for selecting and retaining judges, all judges who will appear on the ballot must undergo a performance evaluation, the results of which are provided to the public as a tool for casting an informed retention vote. A website—www.knowyourjudge.com—is helping voters locate this information for the judges who will appear on their ballot.

Know Your Judge directs voters to the information provided by the Colorado Office of Judicial Performance Evaluation, including evaluation results for judges in each county, and court of appeals judges and supreme court justices who appear on ballots statewide. In addition to the evaluation results, which are presented in both narrative and detailed form, there is a recommendation of “retain,” “do not retain,” or “no opinion” for each evaluated judge based on that judge’s performance on the bench. These recommendations are carefully formulated by the Colorado Commissions on Judicial Performance, based on comprehensive data collected as part of the evaluation process.

Official judicial performance evaluation programs have been established in 17 states and the District of Columbia, and in seven of these states performance evaluation results are provided to voters for use in retention elections. The broad-based and objective performance information collected by these programs is particularly important given the growing number of anti-retention efforts against state court judges on the basis of individual rulings with which special interests may disagree. In both Iowa and Florida this election cycle, state supreme court justices standing for retention are facing anti-retention campaigns on the basis of a particular court decision. In Iowa, a similar effort in 2010 was successful in unseating the three supreme court justices standing for retention that year. Neither Iowa nor Florida has an official JPE program for the benefit of voters.

The Know Your Judge website was developed in 2010 to help draw attention to this resource for voters, and to provide Colorado citizens with information about how their judges are selected, evaluated, and retained. In a 2010 post-election poll, judicial performance evaluations were the most commonly mentioned source of information about Colorado judges, and more than 4 in 10 Coloradoans who visited the Know Your Judge website found it helpful in making their voting decisions.

The effort is sponsored by the Colorado Bar Association, in partnership with the Colorado Judicial Institute, the League of Women Voters® of Colorado Education Fund, and IAALS, the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System at the University of Denver.

Alli Gerkman is Director of Communications for IAALS, the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System at the University of Denver. IAALS is a national, independent research center dedicated to continuous improvement of the process and culture of the civil justice system. This post originally appeared on IAALS Online, the IAALS blog.

The opinions and views expressed by Featured Bloggers on CBA-CLE Legal Connection do not necessarily represent the opinions and views of the Colorado Bar Association, the Denver Bar Association, or CBA-CLE, and should not be construed as such.

Colorado Judicial Ethics Advisory Board Issues Opinion on Whether Judge Can Serve on Governmental Committee

On Monday, September 24, 2012, the Colorado Judicial Ethics Advisory Board issued C.J.E.A.B. Advisory Opinion 2012-05.

C.J.E.A.B. Advisory Opinion 2012-05 discusses whether a judge who regularly presides over dependency & neglect proceedings may participate on a newly-created Child Welfare Executive Leadership Council developed by the Colorado Department of Human Services. The Board advised that the judge may participate on the Council as long as she is able to maintain impartiality, does not give rise to the appearance of impropriety, or violate any other provisions of the Code of Judicial Conduct. The Board warned that the judge must continually reevaluate the propriety of her affiliation with the Council and be mindful of her obligations under the Code.

The Colorado Judicial Ethics Advisory Board consists of judges and non-judges who provide advice on ethical issues to judicial officers who request an opinion on prospective conduct.  Any state judge, justice, magistrate, district administrator or clerk of court in Colorado may request an advisory opinion from the Board. A request may be submitted using JDF 2, “Request for Judicial Advisory Opinion Pursuant to Chief Justice Directive (CJD) 94-01.”

All of the Colorado Judicial Ethics Advisory Board opinions may be found here.

Attorneys to Be Surveyed About Colorado Bankruptcy Court Judges

The Bankruptcy Judges of the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Colorado have asked the Federal Judicial Center (FJC) to survey attorneys who have practiced in the district to assess the performance of each of the Bankruptcy Judges. The surveys are a part of the court’s ongoing commitment to provide the highest level of public service possible. The FJC is the research and education organization for the federal courts.

The start-date of the surveys will be staggered over the next eleven weeks. Click here to view the schedule for each judge.

On the start date for each survey, the FJC will send an email to attorneys who have practiced before the particular Bankruptcy Judge. The email will explain how to access and complete an online questionnaire.

The FJC will compile and analyze the survey responses and will provide each judge a report, including a statistical summary and a compilation of the comments that are received. No identifying information about survey respondents will be given to the judges. The results are exclusively for the judge’s use in improving his or her performance; they will not be provided to anyone other than the judge and will not be used in the reappointment process.

If you do not receive an email from the FJC and want to participate, please contact Ms. Beth Wiggins of the FJC at (410) 308-3751 or (202) 502-4076 or by email at fjc_survey@fjc.gov.

Click here for more information about the survey process.