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Input sought on judicial performance

The Judicial Performance Commission of the Sixth Judicial District is soliciting public input regarding the retention of District and County court judges. Written comments must be postmarked by Friday, April 30.

The judges standing for retention on the November 2010 ballot are District Court judges Gregory Lyman and Jeffrey Wilson; and County Court judges James Denvir (Archuleta County), Martha Minot (La Plata County), and Lyndon Skinner (San Juan County).

The Colorado General Assembly created judicial performance commissions in 1988 to provide fair, responsible and constructive evaluations of trial and appellate judges and justices. The evaluations enable voters to make informed decisions in judicial retention elections, and provide judges with information that helps improve professional skills.

Each of the 22 Colorado judicial districts has one performance commission, in addition to one state commission. The state commission promulgates the rules governing commissions and evaluates the performances of Supreme Court justices and Court of Appeals judges. District commissions evaluate county and district court judges.

Each of the 23 commissions consists of six non-attorneys and four attorneys. Commissioners serve a maximum of two four-year terms, unless appointed to fill a vacancy. An appointed commissioner may serve the balance of an unfinished term, plus two full terms.

In part, evaluations are developed through a random sampling of survey questionnaires completed by persons who have appeared in court before the judge in question. They may include attorneys (private attorneys, prosecutors and public defenders); jurors; litigants; law enforcement personnel; employees of the court, probation offices and social services departments; court interpreters; crime victims and appellate judges.

A judge’s self-evaluation, commissioner courtroom observations, decision reviews, relevant docket and sentencing statistics, personal judge interviews and public input also influence evaluations and subsequent recommendations of whether or not to retain.

Generally speaking, judicial performance evaluations address half-a-dozen criteria, including a judge’s integrity, legal knowledge, communication skills, temperament, administrative performance and service to the legal profession and public.

Once complete, narratives, recommendations and survey reports are released to the public on the first day after the deadline for judges to declare their intent to stand for retention. While available on the Colorado State Judicial Branch Web site at www.courts.state.co.us, results and recommendations are also found on the Colorado Bar Association Web site at www.cobar.org. They are also published in the Legislative Council’s Blue Book (Voter Guide) and mailed to every voter household in the state.

Since 1988, there have been 10 evaluations of judges (one in each general election year), with approximately 1,126 citizens participating on various judicial performance evaluation commissions. Of the 953 named judges on ballots, there have been 15 recommendations not to retain, 10 no opinions and seven judges not retained by voters.

If less than 51 percent of the electorate votes to retain a judge, a judicial nominating commission (overseen by an ex officio Supreme Court justice) publicly announces the opening. Qualified candidates could then submit to a commission interview and review, with the commission eventually recommending the top two or three applicants. The governor ultimately makes the appointment.

In the United States, only Colorado has a judicial performance evaluation program allowing citizens to sit as commissioners in review of judges in their own community or judicial district.

To comment on judges standing for retention in the Sixth Judicial District (listed above), send written remarks to: Chair, Judicial Performance Commission, P.O. Box 2867, Durango, CO 81302. Again, comments must be postmarked by April 30.

For more information on the commission or its process, contact District Administrator Eric Hogue, 1060 E. Second Ave., No. 106, Durango, CO 81301. You can reach Hogue at 247-2304, Ext. 6044.

chuck@pagosasun.com