Two proposals to clean up the courts -- and throw out bad judges
Attorney Chris Forsyth thinks that Colorado courts need to change the way they do business, and the best way to do that is to start with cleaning up the bench, he says. If they make the November ballot and are passed by voters, Initiatives 79 and 94 would create different ways of getting rid of bad judges -- one through an independent ethics committee, the other through the will of the voters. And either way, Colorado could throw the bums out...
If Initiative #79, Elections of Justices and Judges, gets on the ballot, here's what you'll see:
Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado constitution increasing the number of "Yes" votes required for a justice or judge to be retained in office from a simple majority to a two-thirds majority in the November 4, 2014, general election, and in every election thereafter?
Currently, when a Colorado judge is up for retention, this question appears by his/her name on the ballot: "Shall Justice (Judge) of the Supreme (or other) Court be retained in office?" A voter is given only Yes and No options, and a judge needs just a simple majority vote to be retained. If 79 gets on the ballot and passes, a judge will need to receive at least a two-thirds majority of Yes votes to keep the seat. If the judge does not get that number of votes, the seat will be vacant.
According to the proposed initiative, "in a judiciary where justices and judges seek retention through uncontested elections, it is determined that a simple majority vote is no longer sufficient."
According to Clean Up the Courts, the issue committee that proposed these initiatives, Colorado judges almost never lose their jobs -- not because Colorado voters like them, but because of the way retention elections are covered.
And Initiative #94, Duties of the Independent Ethics Commission, would make sure judges behave if they do keep their seats on the bench. Here's the language of that proposal:
Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado constitution concerning regulation of judicial conduct and, in connection therewith, transferring jurisdiction over judicial discipline and disability to the independent ethics commission from the commission on judicial discipline and specifying that such jurisdiction includes review of claims of violations of the Colorado code of judicial conduct and claims of disability, as well as complaints that were previously dismissed by the commission on judicial discipline?
If 94 makes it to the ballot and passes, there will be some big changes in the way the Independent Ethics Commission -- itself the creation of a citizen initiative -- oversees judges and justices, and current sections of the Colorado Constitution that dictate who is responsible for prosecuting judicial misconduct will have to be re-written. As it is now, judges from district courts and county courts are part of the commission on judicial discipline; they're selected by the Colorado Supreme Court. The language of 94 would change that, and give the responsibility to the ethics committee. Any decision regarding whether a justice or judge violated a canon or rule of the Colorado Code of Judicial Conduct, or should be retired for disability, would be in the hands of the committee.
Forsyth, the primary proponent of both initiatives, is a Colorado attorney who is tired of how the courts currently function. "We need judicial reform in Colorado," he says. "Our judges are not properly accountable."
The campaign pushing both initiatives has been running a mail-in effort, so it's difficult to tell if supporters will gather enough signatures to get the proposals on the ballot. The deadline for those petitions is Monday, August 4.
Find more information about all the ballot initiatives -- both those proposed, and the two that have already made the ballot -- go to the Colorado Secretary of State website. Have a tip? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Westword's biggest stories.