- What is merit selection and retention of judges?
In 1966, Colorado voters passed a constitutional amendment that abolished partisan elections for state court judges and established a new merit selection system for the nomination, appointment, and retention of state court judges. The constitutional amendment provides that state court judges be appointed rather than elected on a political ticket. The system eliminates the influence of partisan politics, striking a balance between an independent judiciary, while maintaining public accountability.
Each time a vacancy occurs, the Governor selects a new judge from a list of two or three highly qualified nominees chosen by a judicial nominating commission. The judge serves a two-year provisional term before his or her name is on the ballot for retention. Once retained, the judge serves a fixed term – four years for county court judges, six years for district court judges, eight years for court of appeals judges, and ten years for supreme court justices – before his or her name is on a retention ballot again. There is no limit on the number of terms a judge may serve, but the mandatory retirement age is 72.
- What judges are state court judges and what judges are not state court judges?
State court judges are county court judges, district court judges, court of appeals judges, and supreme court justices. The following judges are not state court judges: Denver County judges (appointed by the Mayor of Denver); municipal court judges serving the cities and towns throughout the state of Colorado; administrative law judges located in the executive branch of government; federal judges and magistrates; and state court magistrates. Although the Denver County judges are not state court judges, the local district judicial performance commission also evaluates the Denver County judges.
- How often do judges stand for retention election?
All judges stand for retention election after serving a two-year provisional term. County court judges then stand every four years, district court judges every six years, court of appeals judges every eight years, and Supreme Court justices every ten years.
- What are commissions on judicial performance?
Commissions on judicial performance provide voters with fair, responsible, and constructive evaluations of judges and justices seeking retention in general elections. The results of the evaluations also provide judges with information that can be used to improve their professional skills as judicial officers.
There is one commission in each of the 22 judicial districts and one state commission.
District commissions evaluate the county and district judges in the judicial district. A state commission evaluates the justices of the Supreme Court and judges of the Court of Appeals.
- In which judicial district do I live?
- What is the composition of the commissions?
The State Commission is comprised of eleven citizen volunteer commissioners: six non-attorneys and five attorneys. Each District Commission consists of ten citizen volunteer commissioners: six non-attorneys and four attorneys.
- Who makes appointments to the commissions?
Commissioners are appointed from one of six appointing authorities: The Chief Justice of the Colorado Supreme Court, the Governor of Colorado, the Colorado Speaker of the House, the Colorado President of the Senate, the House Minority Leader, and the Senate Minority Leader.
The Chief Justice appoints two attorneys to the State and District Commissions. The Governor appoints one attorney and two non-attorneys to the State Commission, and two non-attorneys to the District Commissions. The Speaker of the House and President of the Senate appoint one attorney and one non-attorney to the State and District Commissions. The House Minority Leader and Senate Minority Leader each appoint one non-attorney to the State and District Commissions.
- Are these non-partisan commissions?
Yes. Unlike nominating commissions, commissions on judicial performance are non-partisan.
- Who serves on the judicial performance commissions?
- How are judges evaluated?
Commissions prepare a narrative that includes the recommendation to voters on the retention of the judge. To evaluate the overall performance of a judge, commissions are required to use the following information:
- Results from surveys sent to persons who have sufficient experience with a judge: attorneys (including prosecutors, public defenders, and private attorneys), jurors, litigants, law enforcement personnel, employees of the court, court interpreters, employees of probation offices, employees of local departments of social services, victims of crime, and other judges and justices.
- Information from observing the judge in the courtroom
- Information furnished by the judge in a self-evaluation
- Review of decisions/opinions
- Review of individual judge statistics
- Interview with the judge
- Completion of a standards matrix
- In addition, commissions may use the following information:
- Information and documentation from interested persons
- Information from interviews with justices and judges and other persons
- Information from public hearings
- Who gets to fill out a survey questionnaire?
The state commission contracts with an independent research company to develop a survey process and identify individuals to be sent judicial performance surveys. When people are involved in a case in a state court, their names are entered into the court’s case management system. From the courts data individuals are identified who have a case with a scheduled event that would likely provide an opportunity observe and interact with the judge assigned their case. These individuals are qualified to receive performance surveys for judges eligible to stand for retention election in the next general election. In some areas, a random sample of individuals are selected for surveying when the overall sample has more than 500 potential respondents. In cases where a small number of individuals are identified, all identified individuals will be sent a survey.
- What happens after the survey questionnaires are completed and returned?
The completed surveys are returned to the independent research company conducting the survey. That company compiles the results of all the completed questionnaires it receives into a composite report to be supplied to the commissions on judicial performance and judges. Individual survey questionnaires, including written comments, remain confidential. Judges and commissioners do not know the names of the people who make comments or what ratings specific individuals give the judges.
- Will judges and commissioners see any completed questionnaires?
No. Judges and commissioners will not see individual questionnaires. They will only be able to see the composite report that compiles the results of all returned questionnaires. That report will include written comments provided by people being surveyed.
- Are the overall results of the judicial performance surveys available to the public? How can I see them?
Yes. Survey results and Commission narratives for those judges standing for retention are published on the OJPE website each August of an election year. You may also review past evaluation results of judges who stood for retention from 1990 through the present.
- I would like to evaluate a judge. Can I do that?
Yes, anyone can complete an online survey for a state court judge on the Office of Judicial Performance Evaluation website. Respondents will be asked to provide contact information prior to taking the survey in case we need to contact you regarding your survey responses. Contact information will not be published. Completed survey responses will be included in a survey report with all collected responses for a given judge and used by the performance commission during their next evaluation. Individuals can also make written comments about a judge, by completing the appropriate form on the ojpe.org website. Written submissions outlining performance feedback on a judge may also be mail to the Office of Judicial Performance Evaluation, Ralph L. Carr Judicial Center, c/o Kent J. Wagner, Executive Director, 1300 Broadway, Suite 220, Denver, CO 80203, at any time. The letter must include the senders name and address and the judge will receive a copy of the letter.
- Do judicial performance commissions review individual cases of judges?
Commissions do review some decisions of the judge as part of the overall evaluation of the judge’s legal knowledge, reasoning, and communication skills. However, commissions have no authority to second guess, change, or reverse any judge’s decision in any case.
- Why doesn’t the narrative include the judge’s party affiliation?
In 1966, the people of Colorado passed a constitutional amendment that abolished partisan elections of state court judges and established a new merit selection system for the nomination, appointment, and retention of judges. Colorado's merit selection system provides that judges are selected based on their ability to know and apply the law fairly and impartially. They serve a provisional term during which they are evaluated, and after which the voters decide whether each judge should continue to serve.
- Why doesn’t the judge run against anyone?
In a merit selection and retention system, judges stand for retention election and therefore do not run against an opponent. The question on the ballot is: “Shall Justice (Judge) … of the Supreme (or other) Court be retained in office?” Yes/No.
In fact, under the Colorado Code of Judicial Conduct, judges are prohibited from campaign activity unless there is active opposition to his or her retention in office. This removes partisan politics and political campaigns from the retention process.
- What if I think a judge has done something illegal or unethical? Does the commission investigate complaints against a judge?
No. Commissions on Judicial Performance evaluate the overall performance of judges.
The Commission on Judicial Discipline has separate responsibility for judicial disciplinary matters.
- Does the commission evaluate the performance of state court magistrates?
No. Since, state court magistrates are employees of the judicial district, they are evaluated yearly along with all other employees. Complaints about the job performance of a magistrate may be made to the cistrict administrator.
- What if I think a magistrate has done something illegal or unethical?
Since magistrates are attorneys, complaints should be directed to the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel.
- What if I want to file a complaint against an attorney?
The Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel investigates complaints against attorneys.
- Other information:
History of Colorado Courts
Colorado Courts at a Glance