Tenth Judicial District - Rio Blanco County Court Judge
Honorable Joe Fennessy
Retention Year: 2022
Recommendation: Meets Performance Standard
The Commission on Judicial Performance finds that Judge Joe Fennessy MEETS PERFORMANCE STANDARDS by a vote of six to three with one recused. The judicial performance standards are integrity, legal knowledge, communication skills, judicial temperament, administrative performance, and service to the legal profession and the public.
This is Judge Fennessy’s second evaluation as a County Court judge. The Commission found that he is respectful of all litigants, court personnel, and the integrity of the judicial system. His focus on hard work, preparation, listening, and ensuring that parties receive a fair opportunity to be heard is commendable. His commitment to his community—being willing to serve where no other qualified individuals were willing to step up—is particularly laudable. The commissioners were unanimous in finding that Judge Fennessy meets performance standards with respect to his integrity, judicial temperament, and service to the profession and the public. But, the commissioners were divided regarding his performance in communication skills, legal knowledge, and administrative performance. This arose primarily from concerns voiced, separately but uniformly, from representatives of both the district attorney’s and public defender’s offices. Each reported it seems as if the district attorney, rather than the judge, was directing the docket. They felt that without that direction, Judge Fennessy would easily get confused about the nature of and legal requirements for the proceedings. A related concern articulated was Judge Fennessy often seems not to have mastery over the law applicable to various routine criminal-court proceedings. Because of these concerns, both sides expressed reluctance to take cases to trial, indicating that they are so afraid of judicial error, they enter settlements in his court that they otherwise might not.
For this evaluation, the Commission interviewed Judge Fennessy, read a selection of his legal opinions, observed him in court, reviewed his judicial performance survey report, interviewed representatives of the district attorney’s and public defender’s offices for the district, and reviewed his self-evaluation. In the final analysis, the Commission recognizes that Judge Fennessy came out of retirement to perform this challenging service to his community. He was forthcoming about the challenges of the bench. In the next year he will attain mandatory retirement age for judges. We appreciate that he enjoys his job, takes his responsibilities to the judicial system and the community seriously, and strives to perform at the highest level he can. He works well with his clerks, relies upon them for assistance to an appropriate degree, and manages his courtroom in a professional manner.
Judge Fennessy was raised in Connecticut. He attended law school in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He came to Colorado to obtain a Master of Tax at the University of Denver. From there the position of Deputy District Attorney brought Judge Fennessy to Rio Blanco County, where he has remained for the last 40 years. Judge Fennessy has enjoyed over 20 years in private practice before being appointed as the 9th Judicial County Court Judge here in Rio Blanco County.