LAW WEEK COLORADO
DENVER — Colorado voters decide on Tuesday whether to retain 134 state judges.
It doesn’t happen much, but Colorado state judges are sometimes voted off the bench. Seven judges have lost retention elections since 1990 [see below], all but one of whom received a “do not retain” recommendation from his or her district’s judicial performance evaluation commission.
This year, 132 judges received recommendations for retention from the state’s judicial performance commissions, while only two did not. Pueblo County District Court Judge Jill Mattoon got a “do not retain” recommendation, and Denver County Court Presiding Judge Mary Celeste got a “no opinion” recommendation.
There are efforts during this election cycle to unseat judges and justices who received “retain” recommendations. The three Colorado Supreme Court justices on the ballot this year, Michael Bender, Alex Martinez and Nancy Rice, have been targeted for ouster by Clear The Bench Colorado for more than a year. No Colorado Supreme Court justice has ever lost a retention election.
An effort to unseat Larimer County District Court judges Jolene Blair and Terry Gilmore has been mounted by the Committee for Judicial Justice. Both Blair and Gilmore received “retain recommendations.”
In previous elections, judges who got “do not retain” recommendations were retained on nine occasions. Judges received “no opinion” recommendations on 10 occasions and were retained each time.
Though Colorado voters adopted the judicial retention system in 1966, the state didn’t start releasing judicial performance evaluations until the 1990 election.
Colorado Judges Who Were Not Retained
2008: Jefferson County District Judge Judy Archuleta was voted out after the performance evaluation commission wrote that “her weaknesses far outweigh her strengths and we believe are damaging the public’s trust in the judicial system as a whole.” Her demeanor was called “rude” and “belittling.”
2004: Dolores County Judge Wendy Whicher is the only judge ever to be voted off the bench despite having received a “retain” recommendation. The vote was close, with 510 voting for retention and 515 against. Whicher said small-town politics played a role in her ouster.
2002: A district judge in Steamboat Springs, Joel Thompson was voted out amid scandal after his girlfriend, with whom he shared a home, was arrested on charges of dealing cocaine.
1996: The evaluation commission called to task Denver District Judge Lynne Hufnagel for perceived arrogance and insensitivity. At the time, she told The Denver Post that the evaluation system is “so screwed up.”
1994: Arapahoe County District Judge Michael Bieda and Adams County Judge Robert Steinborn were booted after receiving “do not retain” recommendations. Bieda’s reviewing commission accused him of sexism, temper issues, deficient legal knowledge and a lack of compassion. Steinborn’s reviewing commission said attorneys considered him “rude, arrogant, lacking in people skills, having a chip on his shoulder, unprofessional and overbearing.”
1992: Gunnison County District Judge Thomas Goldsmith lost his judgeship after voters concurred with the local evaluation commission’s recommendation not to retain him.