Colorado 2020 ballot: How to handle questions about judges

Grappling with how to sort through all the judges on your ballot? You’re not alone.

Colorado’s judicial-retention system leaves it to voters to decide, at regular intervals after state and local judges win appointment, whether to allow them to continue serving. The challenge is that most of the names that appear on the ballot — if not all — are likely unfamiliar to most voters.

Here are answers to questions that may help you sort through these ballot items ahead of the Nov. 3 election.

What help is there?

Colorado has an evaluation process that offers information and evaluations on judges. Nonpartisan commissions assess all the judges on the ballot and issue simple recommendations about each judge or Colorado Supreme Court justice who is up for retention, along with more information if you’re willing to study up.

The process isn’t perfect, with critics pointing out gaps in information that might make the evaluations less useful for some voters. (More on that later.)

It’s also rare for a judge to get booted from the bench, though in 2018, the two judges rejected were the only ones who had received ratings of “Does Not Meet Performance Standard” by the commissions. Two years earlier, voters in 2016 decided not to retain one of two judges who received a thumbs-down from the commissions.

Why are these judges on my ballot?

In most states, judges face election in some way. Unlike states where judges run directly for office — sometimes in partisan races that can get nasty — Colorado has an appointment system, with retention votes held periodically.

The governor fills court vacancies by appointing Supreme Court justices, Court of Appeals judges, and district court and county court judges. The only exception is the city and county of Denver, where the mayor appoints the Denver County Court’s judges. Before any appointment is made, nominating commissions made up of attorney and non-attorney members vet applicants and recommend at least two candidates. For Court of Appeals and Supreme Court vacancies, at least three candidates are required.

Colorado’s system goes back about five decades and is meant to keep judges from soliciting donations and running political campaigns. The role of voters in deciding retention questions, however, long has been a challenge.

“In 1988, the legislature was answering the question of how to give voters more information on judges who are up for retention, so they created commissions on judicial performance,” said Kent Wagner, executive director of the state’s Office of Judicial Performance Evaluation. “We’ve been doing that ever since, with 231 commissioners (serving on panels) who evaluate the state of Colorado’s judges — and really serve to just give voters some information about the performance of judges.”

How often do judges appear on the ballot?

Voters play an initial role two years after an appointment, deciding whether to retain — or fire — recent appointees to the state’s higher courts and to lower courts in the judicial district or county in which they live.

After that, judges stand for retention again every four years (for county judges), six years …read more

Source:: The Denver Post – Politics


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