Colorado Supreme Court
Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel
Promoting Professionalism. Protecting the Public.
Inside the Judicial Performance Evaluations
What goes into judging the judges?
By KENT WAGNER
Colorado judicial performance commissions are completing their evaluation of the state’s justices and judges eligible for retention in the November election. Results will be available Aug. 5 at www.coloradojudicialperformance.gov.
Maybe you’ve seen the results in the past. But what goes into these evaluations?
Commissions in local judicial districts evaluate trial judges and the State Commission on Judicial Performance evaluates appellate judges who serve on the Colorado Supreme Court and Colorado Court of Appeals. These commissions are composed of 10 appointed members, including four attorneys and six non-attorneys. Commissioners volunteer their time and experience to provide voters with fair, responsible and constructive information about the performance of trial and appellate judges and justices.
Prior to the election, the commissions spend hours evaluating the overall performance of the judges on a wide range of criteria, including integrity, legal knowledge, communication skills, judicial temperament, administrative performance, and service to the legal profession and the public.
To conduct these evaluations, the commissions review information from several sources. Members consider written decisions and case statistics, perform courtroom observations, and review self-evaluations completed by the judge.
For trial judges, a commission analyzes surveys sent to attorneys, appellate judges, litigants, jurors, court employees, crime victims and others who have appeared before the judge. For appellate judges, the State Commission reviews survey results from attorneys, district judges and other appellate judges. Because judges are provided both a retention election survey and an interim survey, the survey process is in continuous operation.
Information collected during the evaluation process provides the basis for a commission’s recommendation to voters to “retain” or “do not retain” the judge. If the commission is equally divided in their decision, a “no opinion” recommendation is recorded. Commissions prepare a 500-word narrative providing voters with the commission’s recommendation and vote count, biographical information on the judge, survey results, and descriptions of a judge’s performance strengths and weaknesses. Results of the evaluation can also help judges improve their professional skills. Occasionally, commissions recommend a judge enter into a performance improvement plan, targeting specific areas to improve upon prior to the next evaluation. When a commission votes “do not retain” or “no opinion,” the judge may provide a 100-word response that is published along with the commission’s narrative.
The narratives and recommendations on all of the judges who declared their intention to stand for retention election are published in the Legislative Council Voter information booklet, commonly referred to as the “Blue Book.” The Blue Book is mailed in October to every household in Colorado with an active registered voter. Narratives and the Retention Election Survey results also will be available at www.coloradojudicialperformance.gov on August 5.
Commission members take this work seriously and strive to provide an honest, fair and reliable performance assessment of every judge. The judicial evaluation process is a key element supporting the merit selection of judges in Colorado. You can help maintain both of these programs by reviewing the commissions’ recommendations and then making it to the bottom of the ballot where each candidate for judicial retention election can be found.
Kent Wagner is a licensed attorney and the Executive Director of the Office of Judicial Performance Evaluation.