After hearing witnesses and other committee members at a hearing last week on the Congressional redistricting bill, state Rep. Jeanne Labuda took the time to defend the Colorado judiciary to the House State Affairs Committee. The only problem is, she is wrong on almost every point.
LABUDA: In every other state in the union, judges run for election just like you and I do.
1) Colorado is one of many states where judges are selected by appointment. We aren't the only state in the union. In fact, some other states that have an appointment system include Alaska, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Iowa, Kansas and Maine.
LABUDA: Years ago the people of Colorado were very wise when they agreed to let the Colorado Bar Association submit to the Governor a list of names from attorneys whom they thought were qualified to act as judges. And everybody who sits in a judicial position right now, is vetted thoroughly by the Colorado Bar Association, which I think everybody can agree is pretty impartial, it's got equal numbers of probably Democrats, Republicans and independents.
2) The Colorado Bar Association does not submit a list of names to the Governor for judicial appointments. There are two different kinds of judicial nominating commissions in Colorado, the Supreme Court Nominating Commission and the District Court Nominating Comission. According to http://www.courts.state.co.us/Courts/Supreme_Court/Nominating.cfm:
Each of the 22 judicial districts in Colorado has a nominating commission to select the list of names to send to the Governor. Denver is the single exception to this rule. According to the Colorado judicial branch:
The Supreme Court Nominating Commission recommends candidates to serve as judges for the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals. The chief justice of the Supreme Court chairs the commission and is a non-voting member. This commission includes one citizen admitted to practice law in Colorado and one citizen not admitted to practice law residing in each of the state's seven congressional districts, and one additional citizen not admitted to practice law in Colorado.
So, depending on the size of the judicial district, there will be at least a majority of members who are not admitted to the Colorado Bar. The Colorado Bar Association may very well be a very politically impartial group, but members of the nominating commissions aren't necessarily members.
Each judicial district nominating commission consists of seven citizens residing in that judicial district. No more than four of these members can be from the same political party, and there must be at least one voting member from each county in the district. In all districts with populations more than 35,000, the voting members consist of three people admitted to practice law in Colorado and four people not admitted to practice law in Colorado. In judicial districts with populations under 35,000, at least four voting members are people not admitted to practice law in Colorado. It is determined by majority vote of the governor, the attorney general and the chief justice how many, if any, of the remaining three members will be persons admitted to practice law in Colorado.
LABUDA: And those are the people that get appointed to judicial positions, confirmed by the Senate and appointed by the Governor.
3) The Senate doesn't confirm judges in Colorado. In fact, an article on the Colorado Bar Association's web site discusses some potential drawbacks of adding the element of Senate confirmation.
LABUDA: We look at them for retention every 10 years.
4) The length of the time between each judges retention election is actually based on the term, so only members of the Colorado Supreme Court are up for retention every 10 years (and that's only after the initial 2-year term). According to coloradojudicialperformance.gov:
All judges stand for retention election after serving a two-year provisional term. County court judges then stand every four years, district court judges every six years, court of appeals judges every eight years, and Supreme Court justices every ten years.