Eighteenth Judicial District - District Judge
Honorable Phillip L. Douglass
Retention Year: 2018
Recommendation: Does Not Meet Performance Standard
The Eighteenth Judicial District Commission on Judicial Performance finds, by vote of 6 to 3 with one recusal, that Judge Phillip L. Douglass DOES NOT MEET PERFORMANCE STANDARDS.
Judge Douglass was appointed to the District Court in 2015. He currently presides over a criminal docket in Arapahoe County. He earned his undergraduate degree (cum laude) from BYU in 1989 and his law degree (magna cum laude) from Cornell Law School in 1992. Before his appointment, Judge Douglass practiced general commercial litigation/arbitration, labor and employment law, and internal corporate investigations. Judge Douglass volunteers with youth groups, including the Boy Scouts of America and 4-H; he also judges high school and college mock trial competitions.
The Commission conducted a personal interview with Judge Douglass, reviewed the Judge’s written self-evaluation and his written decisions, observed him in court, reviewed comments from interested parties, and reviewed survey responses from attorneys and non-attorneys who had experience with Judge Douglass. The Commission also reviewed Judge Douglass’ 2018 caseload data report and his 2017 interim Judicial Performance Survey, as well as transcripts from court proceedings provided by the Judge. The 2018 Judicial Performance Survey reflected the following responses from sixteen attorneys who completed the survey: 44% indicated that he meets performance standards, 44% indicated that he does not meet performance standards, and 13% expressed no opinion. (These percentages may not total 100% due to rounding.) The 2018 survey results also reflect sixty-eight non-attorney responses: 93% indicated that he meets performance standards, 4% indicated that he does not meet performance standards, and 3% expressed no opinion.
Judge Douglass brings intelligence, a sincere desire to serve, and many valuable skills to his work as a judge. He is personable and friendly, particularly towards unrepresented litigants, and his above-average survey ratings and positive comments from non-attorneys, including jurors, are a testament to his effort to make the judicial system accessible. While his sense of humor and informal conversations with litigants appearing in his courtroom appears to be well-intentioned, Judge Douglass is often too familiar, at times making inappropriate comments, blurring necessary boundaries, and failing to maintain proper decorum and the appearance of neutrality. Judge Douglass has made some improvements in curtailing inappropriate comments and controlling the appearance of a short temper and abrasive conduct. However, the Commission is concerned about his ability to consistently maintain the necessary air of dignity of the Court. The Commission noted similar concerns in the Judge’s 2017 interim evaluation and is troubled by a notable decline in his judicial temperament, demeanor, diligence, and communication ratings in his 2018 evaluation. The Commission is also concerned that Judge Douglass has not taken sufficient steps to improve in response to constructive criticism and feedback, particularly with regard to his temperament and judicial demeanor. Based on these findings, the Commission determines, by vote of 6 to 3 with one recusal, that Judge Phillip L. Douglass does not meet judicial performance standards.
Judge Phillip L. Douglass’ Response: A few privileged lawyers vowed to seek my removal based upon perceived slights early after my appointment. Comments to the Commission show that these lawyers swayed opposition from the Commission and others. This is unfortunate. It silences the 94% of laypersons and dozens of lawyers (by far a majority) in the 2017 and 2018 surveys who support my retention and commend me as diligent, smart, hardworking, respectful, and fair. It ignores my accomplishments: reducing civil cases over 12 months-old from 13% to 3% and reducing criminal cases from third highest to lowest. I hope the public will vote to retain.