With all the politically charged and high interest election races coming up this November, from president down to county commissioner, don’t forget: Local judges are up for retention.
In Colorado, elected officials appoint judges, but voters decide if they retain their seat after terms expire, said La Plata County Clerk and Recorder Tiffany Parker.
Judges are reviewed by judicial commissions, made up of attorneys and non-attorneys. If they meet “performance standards,” they are recommended for retention. If they don’t, they are not recommended for retention. Only two judges out of about 100 standing for retention this year – a county judge in Sedgwick County and a district judge in the 17th Judicial District (Adams County and Broomfield) – are not recommended for retention.
Each judicial district has its own10-person commission. A complete list of the 6th Judicial District commissioners, which consists of Archuleta, La Plata and San Juan counties, can be viewed at https://bit.ly/3dyWCaJ.
To come to their findings, commissions interview the judges, send out surveys to other judges and attorneys, and review their court hearings and legal opinions.
It’s difficult for the general public to be informed about each judge, leading many voters to leave the judicial retention portion of the ballot blank, Parker said.
“It is a tough one, that’s why we see a high amount of under-votes,” she said.
In La Plata County, for instance, 31,150 people cast a vote in the presidential election in 2016, but only 21,722 people completed the retention question for Judge William Herringer, who serves in the local 6th Judicial District.
Here is a breakdown of the commission’s findings for 6th Judicial District judges. The reports can be viewed in full at: https://bit.ly/31bOmss.
Judge Todd Parker NorvellThe 6th Judicial District Commission on Judicial Performance voted 10-0 that Norvell meets performance standards. Norvell was appointed in 2017.
When surveyed about whether Norvell met judicial performance standards, 87% of attorneys said yes and 9% said no. Norvell received a survey rating of 3.3 out of 4, slightly below the average combined rating of all district court judges across the state (3.4 out of 4).
In its review, the commission said representatives from both the Public Defender’s Office and the District Attorney’s Office mentioned Norvell was not biased for the prosecution or defense, and is very well prepared.
“No other judge received such consistent comments from the PD and the DA,” the commission wrote. “Comments from the Judicial Performance Survey describe Judge Norvell as an individual who is ‘extremely conscientious,’ ‘kind and respectful,’ ‘well prepared.’”
Judge Suzanne Fairchild CarlsonThe commission voted 10-0 that Carlson meets performance standards. Carlson was appointed in July 2012.
When surveyed about whether Carlson meets judicial performance standards, 71% of attorneys said yes and 21% said no. Carlson received a survey rating of 3 out of 4, below the average combined rating of all district court judges across the state (3.4 out of 4).
In its review, the commission said Carlson was described in written survey comments “as being fair, having a calm demeanor and giving the parties appearing in her court an opportunity to be heard.”
“Some of Judge Carlson’s perceived shortcomings, as identified in the surveys, include the timeliness and clarity of her rulings and the amount of leeway she grants some attorneys in her courtroom,” the report said.
The commission wrote that Carlson has indicated she was aware of her perceived shortcomings and listed the affirmative steps she has taken to address those issues, which the commission is satisfied with.
In statewide judicial retentions:
Colorado Supreme Court Justice Melissa HartThe State Commission on Judicial Performance voted 11-0 that Hart meets performance standards. Hart was appointed by former Gov. John Hickenlooper in December 2017.
When surveyed if Hart meets judicial performance standards, 90% of attorneys said yes, 5% said no and 5% had no opinion. Of the judges who responded, 98% said yes and 2% answered no.
Colorado Supreme Court Justice Carlos A. Samour Jr.The State Commission on Judicial Performance voted 11-0 that Samour meets performance standards. Samour was appointed by Hickenlooper in July 2018.
When surveyed if Samour meets judicial performance standards, 69% of attorneys said yes, 13% said no and 19% had no opinion. Of the judges who responded, 93% said yes and 7% said no.
Colorado Court of Appeals Judge Ted C. Tow IIIThe State Commission on Judicial Performance voted 11-0 that Tow meets performance standards. Tow was appointed by Hickenlooper in February 2018.
When surveyed if Tow meets judicial performance standards, 66% of attorneys said yes, 31% said no and 3% had no opinion. Of the judges who responded, 96% said yes and 4% had no opinion.
Colorado Court of Appeals Judge Craig R. WellingThe State Commission on Judicial Performance voted 11-0 that Welling meets performance standards. Welling was appointed by Hickenlooper in January 2018.
When surveyed if Welling meets judicial performance standards, 84% of attorneys said yes and 16% said no. Of the judges who responded, 98% said yes and 2% said no.