Can you name that guy?

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Who hires unaccountable, retired judges to preside over cases?  Who decides what to charge for our electronic court filing service without seeking legislative approval?  Who oversees the judicial branch's annual budget that exceeds a half billion dollars? That would be our state court administrator.  Sounds like an important person, don't you think?  Can you name him?


Our state court administrator is not an elected official. He's simply hired by the Supreme Court like any other employee.  So he's not accountable to the voters of this state.  He only answers to the Supreme Court.  Our nominating commissions didn't interview for a CEO of a huge company when they nominated the candidates for the Supreme Court; they simply interviewed for someone to fairly decide cases. How do we know whether the judges, who are acting as CEOs, hired the best person for the position?


We already know that the state court administrator misled legislators to achieve the judicial branch's desires.  In order to get the Ralph L. Carr Justice Complex built in downtown Denver, State Court Administrator Gerald Marroney told legislators and the public in 2008 that no tax dollars would be used to pay for the building. He stated that the judicial branch would generate the revenue to pay for the building. The statements were made to convince legislators to support the bill that created the complex.

The statements convinced legislators to pass the bill for the building, but the statements weren't accurate. As subsequent events have shown, the legislature has repeatedly had to use millions (yes, that's right -- MILLIONS) of taxpayer dollars to cover the debt for the building. Year after year. The only question is how much taxpayers will ultimately end up paying. The lease-purchase agreement doesn't end until 2046. Right now, we're on track to pay
128 million tax payer dollars for the building legislators were originally duped into approving by Marroney's statements that no tax payer dollars would be used.


128 million vs. 0.  That's a pretty big difference.  Shouldn't the person responsible for that difference be an elected official who's accountable to the people?  He's hand-picking retired judges to hear cases, he's setting fees that people pay for electronic filings without any legislative permission to do so, and he's overseeing what's probably the largest budget in the state.  Yet you have absolutely no say regarding whether he keeps his job.  Are you OK with that?


And on top of that, he's protected by the rule the Supreme Court adopted excepting itself from Colorado's Open Records Act.  If the release of information about him could (speculative) compromise his safety or security, the judicial branch doesn't have to release the information.  Maybe that's why it's next to impossible to find a photo of him.


Contested elections do provide some transparency and accountability.  While we'd like to keep judges out of contested elections, the state court administrator is a different matter.  He's not a judge.  We need a state court administrator who is accountable to the people in a contested election, along with an appellate clerk who is accountable to the people in a contested election.

We have a lot of work to do. Judges spent a lot of taxpayer
dollars to build a building without getting your permission to do so. We need to get to work on building a better justice system.

Help yourself to a better justice system.

Ralph J. Carr Justice Complix

​​Nominating

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The Judicial Nominating Commissionsare responsible for nominating candidates from which the governor selects a judge. 



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Where created?

The state constitution

Art. VI, Sec. 24.

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​How and when created?


By referendum (constitutional amendment proposed by the legislature) adopted by the people in an election in 1966.

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How many commissions?


There are23nominating commissions in Colorado.  One for each of our 22 judicial districts and a Supreme Court Nominating Commission that nominates candidates for Supreme Court and Court of Appeals judges.

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How many people on the commissions?

There are7people on each  district commission and15people on the Supreme Court Nominating Commission.

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Who selects the people on the commissions?


The governor selects all non lawyers. The lawyers are appointed by a majority action of the governor, chief justice and attorney general.


Supreme Court commission: 1 lawyer and 1 non lawyer from each congressional district (Colorado has 7 congressional districts) plus 1 additional non lawyer.


District commissions: 

3 lawyers and 4 non lawyers.  If the district has less than 35,000 people, the number of lawyers on the commission can be reduced by a majority vote of the governor, chief justice and attorney general.

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Political diversity?


No more than one-half of the commission members plus one shall be members of the same political party.

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​Investigative power?


None granted by constitution.  Rules for the commissions state that the commissions may conduct investigations of personal and professional qualifications.  The commissions do not have the power of subpoena.

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Supreme Court involvement?


The chief justiceserves as the non-voting chairman of the Supreme Court nominating commission, and a justice of the Supreme Court, chosen by the chief justice, serves as a non-voting chairman of the district commissions.





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Public hearings?


None. Rules for the commissions, that appear to have been drafted by the Supreme Court, require the commission's proceedings to be confidential.


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Any public documents?


None. Rules for the commissions, that appear to have been drafted by the Supreme Court, require the commission's proceedings to be confidential.



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What's the result?


Darkness, among other things. The nominating commissions don't receive any information from the discipline or performance commissions when determining whether to nominate a judge for a higher court.


Learn more and see our ideas for improving the system.






Jeopardizing Justice

 

The commission-based process and retention elections are touted as the hallmarks of Colorado's justice system. If that's the case, why are there so many exceptions to the commission-based process and/or retention elections?

The Unaccountable3

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Three types of judges were created to circumvent retention elections and/or the commission-based process.


Retired judges, which are often referred to as senior judges, are allowed to return to the bench after their terms of office are over. Although they originally were selected for the bench, they no longer go through retention elections and aren't subject to the performance commissions. Yet retired judges often preside over jury trials, sentence people to jail, and, at the Court of Appeals, make statewide public policy.


Magistratesare hired by district court judges and serve at their pleasure. Magistrates are not subject to any of the three commissions on this page.  Magistrates don't go through retention elections. Yet magistrates can sentence people to jail. If a judge can sentence you to jail, you should be able to vote for or against that judge in a retention election.


Administrative Law Judges (ALJs)are state employees hired like any other employee in the executive branch. Yet ALJs rule over workers' compensation, human services, licensing and a variety of other cases. ALJs are not subject to the three commissions on this page and don't go through retention elections.


Every time we circumvent the commission-based process and/or retention elections we undermine and devalue the purported hallmarks of Colorado's justice system. Denying the hallmarks of our justice system to some denies justice for all.


Politics

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Why do we have the Unaccountable 3 above? Because, in part, the judicial branch wanted them.


History shows that the greatest threat to the fairness of the judiciary is actually the judges themselves. Destroying justice is most often an inside job.


The founders of this country were most concerned with the power of the judiciary, as were the individuals who envisioned judicial systems and inspired our founders, such as Charles de Montesquieu, Plato and Socrates.


Colorado abandoned contested elections for judges years ago, but we neglected to take politics out of the judiciary altogether. We created a dangerous hybrid where judges don't run in contested elections, aren't labeled as Republican or Democrat, yet have great sway with term-limited legislators and governors to create statewide public policy that often benefits judges but doesn't benefit justice.


Selfish rules

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Our judicial branch likes it dark. And that doesn't inspire confidence in the judiciary.


The darkness surfaced in 1999 in the following opinion: Office of the State Ct. Adm'r V. Background Info. Serv., 994 P.2d 420 (Colo. 1999). Rebecca Kourlis, who now heads the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS), wrote the opinion, which gives one an idea of what IAALS and Kourlis are all about.


She determined that Colorado's Open Records Act does not apply to Colorado's judicial branch in general. The opinion paved the way for aSupreme Court rulethat allows the judicial branch to keep documents secret if such "inspections could compromise the safety or security of a Judicial Branch employee."


Where the legislature focused on the public interest in adopting Colorado's Open Records Act, the judicial branch focused on itself in adopting its rule. The judicial branch's rule is an example of a completely selfish power play -- an example of what happens when a conflict of interest is present.  The rule constitutes improper legislation by the judicial branch that completely benefits the judges and other employees in the judicial branch.


According to the Code of Judicial Conduct, judges are supposed to avoid the appearance of impropriety and promote confidence in the judiciary. So why is the branch of government that is supposed to be the fairest of all, the darkest of all?


And more

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We haven't even touched on the fact that the chief justice has staff that she uses to keep her eyes and ears on the other branches of government. And she uses those staff members to persuade the other branches to act a certain way. She's using your taxpayer dollars to pursue her political agenda. All when she wasn't elected in a contested political election.


And then there's the fact that because the Code of Judicial Conduct isn't being enforced in Colorado, judges aren't learning how to appropriately behave as judges because they're not seeing published case law on how to act ethically as judges.


There are just so many issues that need to be addressed. We can't begin to address every problem on this website.


But it all comes down to this:  Colorado has a problem that's as old as judicial power itself. Judges are jeopardizing justice. Won't you help us build a better justice system?



We can build a better justice system

Three dark commissions cause voters to know too little about judges


Why is there so much darkness? Below are specifics regarding the 3 commissions that are the foundation of Colorado's judicial branch. In Colorado, judges are nominated by a commission and then appointed by the governor. A commission decides whether judges should be disciplined. And different commissions make recommendations to voters regarding whether judges should be retained in office. 


Most states don't have judicial branches that are as invested in commissions as Colorado. Only 5 other states are as reliant upon commissions as Colorado. The majority of states still have contested elections to choose judges. We’d like to keep contested judicial elections out of Colorado. That's because, at least philosophically, Colorado’s commission-based process is better. All the money that flows into contested elections does not create a healthy environment for justice.


But is Colorado's current system really better than a system where judges go through contested elections?  Have we traded traceable money/conflict of interest issues for complete darkness?  You are encouraged to review the specifics regarding Colorado's commissions below. We hope you find it to be a useful reference.

We believe that if Colorado's commission-based process is to survive and thrive, it:

1)must not have any conflicts of interest,

2) must be transparent, and

3)must provide complete accountability for improper behavior.


It is upon these principles that we hope to build a better justice system. 


Comparing Colorado's Commissions

​​ Discipline

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The Colorado Commission on Judicial Discipline is responsible for disciplining judges who violate the Code of Judicial Conduct or removing judges from the bench who have become disabled.

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Where created?


The state constitution

Art. VI, Sec. 23

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​How and when created?


By referendum (constitutional amendment proposed by the legislature) and adopted by the people in an election in 1966.

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How many commissions?


There is 1judicial discipline commission that disciplines county court, district court, court of appeals and supreme court judges.



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How many people on the commission?


There are 10 people on the commission.


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Who selects the people on the commission?

2district court judges and

2 county court judges are selected by the Supreme Court (4 judges total on the 10-member commission).

2 lawyers who aren't judges are appointed by the governor with consent of the senate.

4citizens who aren't lawyers or judges are appointed by the governor with consent of the senate.










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Political diversity?


None required.





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​Investigative power?


Constitution states that commission may do "such investigation as it deems necessary."  Rules for the commission do give it the power of subpoena.



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Supreme Court involvement?


Supreme Court makes the rules for the commission to follow.


Supreme Court created an executive director who not only reports to the commission but also to the Supreme Court.


The Supreme Court adopted rules requiring most complaints to be dismissed by the executive director.

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Public hearings?


None. The state constitution requires judicial discipline proceedings to be confidential.




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Any public documents?


None. The state constitution requires judicial discipline proceedings to be confidential. The legislature made it a misdemeanor for anyone who assists the commission to willfully reveal the contents of any filing with the commission.

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What's the result?


Darkness. But we do know that the commission has dismissed an average of97%of complaints against judges since 1993.





Learn more and see our ideas for improving the system.








 

​​Performance

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The Colorado Commissions on Judicial Performance are responsible for recommending to voters whether a judge should be retained in office. Colorado has uncontested judicial retention elections.

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Where created?


Statute
C.R.S. § 13-5.5-101 et.seq.

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​How and when created?


By legislation in 1988.




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How many commissions?


There are23performance commissions in Colorado. One for each of our 22 judicial districts and a state commission that evaluates Court of Appeals and Supreme Court judges.


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How many people on the commissions?


There are10 people on each of the commissions.



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Who selects the people on the commissions?


Each commission:

1attorney and 1 non attorney appointed by the speaker of the house;

1 attorney and 1 non attorney appointed by the president of the senate.

1 attorney and 2non attorneys appointed by the governor.

1attorney and 2non attorneys appointed by the chief justice.











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Political diversity?


None required.





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​Investigative power?


None.








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Supreme Court involvement?


Supreme Court approves all rules adopted by the state commission, which makes the rules for all commissions to follow.


The rules the state commission adopted ultimately gave less stringent reviews to Supreme Court and Court of Appeals judges than trial court judges. The rules also were contrary to statute.

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Public hearings?


None required. Commissions are allowed to hold public hearings. Most commissions don't hold public hearings.



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Any public documents?


Only the final report of the commissions is made public. The executive director of the Office of Judicial Performance, as well as a district commissioner, have admitted that the commissions destroy all surveys and documentation used to write the narrative report.

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What's the result?


Darkness and deception. The performance commissions don't receive any information from the discipline or nominating commissions.




Learn more and see our ideas for improving the system.