Fourteenth Judicial District - Grand County Court Judge
Honorable Ben W. McClelland
Retention Year: 2014
Recommendation: Do Not Retain
Retention Recommendation: The Fourteenth Judicial District Commission on Judicial Performance recommends, by a vote of 6 to 4, that Judge Ben W. McClelland NOT BE RETAINED.
Background: Judge Ben McClelland earned his Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Wyoming in 1990 and his Juris Doctorate degree from the same institution in 1994. Prior to being appointed, Judge McClelland practiced law in both Colorado and Wyoming with a focus on real estate and property matters including water rights and oil and gas, and also served as a Hot Sulphur Springs Municipal Judge. Judge McClelland presides over all County Court cases filed in Grand County, which include Civil, Small Claims, Misdemeanor, Felony, Traffic Offense, and Traffic Infraction case types. He conducts bench and jury trials as needed.
Evaluation Methods: The Commission reviewed written evaluations of Judge McClelland from attorneys and non-attorneys, including verbatim comments attached to the evaluation questionnaires. The Commission also considered written correspondence regarding Judge McClelland and his written response. The Commission also considered a self-evaluation, orders, and opinions written by Judge McClelland. Finally, members of the Commission personally observed Judge McClelland in his courtroom and conducted a face to face interview of him. Of all attorneys surveyed about retention, 56% recommended retention, 32% not to retain, and 12% made no recommendation regarding retention. Of all non-attorneys surveyed, 78% recommended retention, 14% not to retain, and 9% made no recommendation regarding retention. (These percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding.) All of the groups surveyed had a sufficient response rate.
Performance: Survey results and observation by Commissioners regarding Judge McClelland were mixed. To the positive, it was generally regarded that Judge McClelland is consistent in his rulings, works to learn the law, gives the parties a fair chance to present their cases, and is accommodating when it comes to scheduling. He moves his docket forward, is efficient in court, and is a hard worker. His oral communications in court are clear and direct and he maintains control over his courtroom. To the negative, commenters, including some Commissioners, described Judge McClelland as arrogant, defensive, impatient, and lacking appropriate judicial demeanor. His lectures from the bench tend to be grandiose, offensive, and off-putting. It was commented that Judge McClelland has a tendency, or at least the appearance, to rule based on his personal bias or opinion. These characteristics do not meet required judicial criteria of communication and judicial temperament. Among surveyed attorneys, Judge McClelland’s “retain” recommendation of 56% was significantly under the state average for all County Court judges (78%) and his “do not retain” recommendation of 32% was likewise higher than the state average (13%). Among non-attorneys, his “retain” recommendation of 78% was lower than the average (86%) and his “do not retain” recommendation of 14% was higher (8%). Although Judge McClelland received an average grade of 3.0 in the surveys, that score is below the 3.43 average combined grade for all county court judges standing for retention in 2014.
Judge Ben W. McClelland’s Response: The Judicial Performance Survey grades judges by letters A through F. My 2014 Judicial Performance average overall grade is a 3.00, or a B grade. Eleven attorneys responded to the 2014 survey, one accused me of being arrogant. Positive comments included "patient,” "smart," "knows the law," and "consistent rulings." Non-attorneys, including defendants, provided 83 written positive comments and 64 negative comments. The Appeals Courts have upheld all of my trial court rulings. I'm strict in the application of the law. Comparing my local survey results to survey results in other counties is akin to comparing apples to oranges.