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Colorado Commissions on Judicial Performance . Jane B. Howell Executive Director Office of Judicial Performance Evaluation. Historical Background. 1966 Constitutional Amendment

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Colorado commissions on judicial performance l.jpg

ColoradoCommissions on Judicial Performance

Jane B. Howell

Executive Director

Office of Judicial Performance Evaluation

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Historical Background

1966 Constitutional Amendment

  • abolished partisan elections of judges and established a new merit selection system for the nomination, appointment, and retention of judges

  • Aims to strike a balance between an independent judiciary while maintaining public accountability

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1988 Statute (13-5.5-101 et seq.)

  • General Assembly created Commissions on Judicial Performance to complement the merit selection process

    • From 1966 to 1990, judges were on the ballot for retention, but voters did not have information on their performance

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Rules Governing the Commissions on Judicial Performance

  • Promulgated by the State Commission

  • Approved by the Supreme Court

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  • Provide voters with fair,responsibleand constructive evaluations of trial and appellate judges and justices seeking retention


  • Provide judges and justices with information to help improve their professional skills as judicial officers

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  • One commission in each judicial district (22)

    • Evaluates district and county judges

  • One state commission

    • Evaluates Supreme Court justices and Court of Appeals judges

    • Promulgates Rules

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  • 10 NONPARTISAN members

    • 6 non-attorneys

    • 4 attorneys

  • 4 appointing authorities

    • Governor (1 attorney and 2 non-attorneys)

    • Chief Justice (1 attorney and 2 non-attorneys)

    • Senate Pres. (1 attorney and 1 non-attorney)

    • Speaker (1 attorney and 1 non-attorney)

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Commissioner Terms

  • Four-year terms

    • Maximum of 2 terms

  • If filling a vacancy, commissioner is eligible to serve balance of term plus two full terms

  • Terms expire on Nov. 30 of odd years

  • Appointing authority must appoint within 45 days of vacancy or State Commission makes the appointment

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  • Commissions shall elect a chair and vice-chair

    • One of whom is an attorney

    • One of whom is a non-attorney

  • Two year terms expiring on Nov. 30 of each odd numbered year

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  • All state and district commissioners must attend a training session every 2 years

  • A commissioner who fails to meet the training requirement shall recuse from the consideration and vote on any matter involving the evaluation of a justice/judge

    • Unless excused by a 2/3 vote

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Role of Chief Justice and Chief Judge

  • The commission meets with the Chief Justice/Judge prior to beginning any evaluations for an overview of the court

  • The meeting shall not concern the evaluation of any justice/judge’s performance, unless the commission had previously made a recommendation for improvement for a justice/judge being evaluated that year

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Evaluation ProcessCommissioners must:

All Evaluation Criteria is of equal weight

Commissioners must:

  • Consider judge’s self-evaluation

  • Observe 3 judges in the courtroom

  • Review decisions/opinions

  • Review judge statistics

  • Consider survey results

  • interveiw

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Evaluation ProcessCommissioners may:

Commissioners may:

  • Conduct public hearings

  • Consider oral or written information from any person who has appeared before the judge during the previous year

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  • Requires the justice or judge to conduct an appraisal of his or her performance

  • Provides information to the commission that may be used during the interview

  • Information is confidential and cannot be quoted in the narrative

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Courtroom Observation

Each commissioner shall make unannounced visits to the courtroom to observe at least 3 justices/judges

  • To become knowledgeable of the responsibilities and duties of justices and judges

  • To observe demeanor, control over judicial proceedings, timeliness, communication skills, preparation, docket management

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Review of Decisions

  • District commissioners shall review 3 decisions of county and district judges for:

    • Thoroughness of findings

    • Clarity of expression

    • Logical reasoning

    • Application of law to the facts

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Review of Decisions

  • State commission reviews 10* opinions of appellate judges for:

    • Adherence to the record

    • Clarity of expression

    • Logical reasoning

    • Application of the law to the facts presented


      • 5 opinions, civil and criminal, including one separate concurrence or dissent

      • 5 other opinions from list of all opinions authored

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TrialJudge Statistics

  • District commissions review information on each trial judge about:

    • caseload and case types

    • Open case reports

    • Case aging reports

    • # of jury trials and jury trial days

    • # of court trials and court trial days

    • Sentence modifications (18-1.3-406 C.R.S.)

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Appellate Judge Statistics

  • State commission reviews information on each appellate judge about:

    • Number of cases assigned to the justice/judge

    • Length of time justice/judge has had case

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Trial Judge

  • Appellate judges survey district judges

  • District judges survey county judges

  • Attorneys who have appeared before the judge

    • Prosecutors

    • Public defenders

    • Private attorneys

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  • Non-Attorneys who have appeared before the judge

    • Litigants

    • Jurors

    • Probation Officers

    • Crime victims

    • GALs

    • CASA volunteers

    • Peace officers

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Appellate Judge

  • Trial judges

  • Attorneys including prosecutors, public defenders, and private attorneys

  • Other appellate judges and staff attorneys

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Critera on which judges are evaluated:

  • Integrity

  • Control over judicial proceedings

  • Attentiveness

  • Punctuality

  • Legal Ability

  • Knowledge and understanding of substantive, procedural, and evidentiary law

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  • Communication skills

  • Prompt case disposition

  • Preparation

  • Docket management

  • Administrative skills

  • Effectiveness in working with participants in the judicial process

  • Service to the legal profession and the public

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Also survey on whether the judge:

  • Is courteous

  • Treats all parties who appear in the courtroom equally

  • Provides clear written and oral decisions

  • Displays appropriate demeanor

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  • Names and addresses of respondents are gathered quarterly from two statewide databases

    • Court

    • CDAC (Colorado District Attorney’s Council)

  • Surveys are mailed quarterly

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  • Survey results (reports) include statistical analysis, verbatim comments from survey respondents (confidential), and ranking each judge with other judges in the same judicial district and statewide

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Retention judges:

  • Survey reports delivered to commissioners by May 1 of retention year

    Non-retention judges:

  • Survey reports delivered in off year

    (interim reports)

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Questions typically derive from:

  • Judge’s self-evaluation

  • Courtroom observation

  • Survey data and comments

  • Review of opinions/decisions

  • Any other written or oral information

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  • Docket

  • Case Management (or lack thereof)

  • Pro Se issues

  • Sentencing practices

  • Trial management skills

  • Family law issues

  • Information from public hearings

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Based on:

  • Interview

  • Courtroom observations

  • Survey data

  • Self-evaluation

  • Review of decisions

  • Any other written or oral information

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Recommendation of:

  • Retain

  • Do Not Retain

  • No Opinion

    • Only given if the commission is equally divided

    • Not counted as for or against an individual

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A commission shall strongly consider a recommendation of “retain” for any justice or judge who receives an average of at least 3.0 on a 4.0 scale for the questionnaire responses

  • unless the other evaluation information indicates a significant performance problem, such as poor judicial temperament

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A commission shall strongly consider a recommendation of “do notretain” for any justice or judge who receives less than an average of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale unless:

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  • Docket or caseload cannot be appropriately managed due to nature or high number of cases (provisional judge)

  • Commission believes that with additional experience on the bench and a commitment to improve judicial skills, the judge should be given more time

    • Judge must agree to be placed on an improvement plan

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  • May include the following sources of information:

    • Courtroom observation

    • Review of opinions/decisions

    • Interviews

    • Information from public hearings

    • Survey data

    • Summary of survey comments

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5 short paragraphs – 500 words

  • Retention recommendation

  • Biographical data

    • Undergraduate and law schools

    • Educational degrees

    • Professional association activities

    • Recent awards and honors

    • Volunteer or community work

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  • Information specific to work

    • And any other previous substantial legal or public employment

  • Description of performance

    • Including any areas of exemplary or distinguishing performance

    • And any areas of significantly poor performance

  • Additional information

    • Including description of groups of respondents surveyed

    • Percentage of responses received recommending retention and non-retention

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    Any commission issuing a “DoNot Retain” recommendation shall, at the justice or judge’s request, include a response of not more than 100 words

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    Narrative Timeline

    • The commission must deliver the draft narrative to the judge within 10 days of the interview

    • Judge has 10 days to respond in writing requesting an additional interview (commission may also request additional interview)

    • Additional interview must be held within 10 days of the request

    • Commission must deliver revised draft, if one, to the judge within 10 days of the additional interview

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    Improvement Plans

    • Commission identifies area(s) of improvement in writing

    • Commission notifies Jane Howell

    • Jane Howell notifies the judicial educator at the State Court Administrator’s Office

    • Judicial Educator, chief judge, and judge develop an improvement plan

    • Commission and Jane Howell are no longer involved

    • Contents of the plan are confidential

    • Fact that there is an improvement plan may be recited in the narrative.

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    Any commissioner or judge may file a written complaint with the state commission for any alleged violation of the rules or statutes governing judicial performance commissions

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    The state commission shall:

    • provide a copy to the chair of the district commission, who shall provide a written response

    • make an independent review and provide its determination to the district commission along with remedial instructions

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    • The state commission may not reverse any retention recommendation

    • but may cause a rebuttal to be published with the district commission’s recommendation

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    • or direct a district commission to revise a narrative within 10 days

    • Should the district commission fail to satisfactorily comply, the state commission may, in its discretion, rewrite the narrative

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    • Survey comments

    • Commission members and staff shall maintain confidentiality with regard to evaluation materials and communications

    • All interviews or deliberations directly concerning the retention of any judge

    • All oral and written documentation received by the commission

    • Content of Improvement Plans

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    After the narratives are made public

    The commission’s designated spokesperson may publicly discuss:

    • Recommendation

    • Narrative Survey data

    • Information from public hearings

    • Recommendation for an improvement plan (not the contents)

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    • The day after judges must declare intent to stand for retention with the Secretary of State, narratives/recommendations/survey stats are posted at and

    • Linked to, and

    • Issue 250+ press releases

    • Published in the Legislative Council’s Blue Book