Location: LSB B
Presentation on Judicial Performance Commission
COMMITTEE ON JOINT JUDICIARY
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09:53 AM -- Presentation on Judicial Performance Commission
Senator Gardner, chair, called the committee to order and explained the purpose of the hearing on the Commission on Judicial Performance (commission). Senator Gardner explained the procedures to be used for the hearing, including for public testimony.
09:56 AM -- Mr. Kent Wagner, Executive Director of the Office of Judicial Performance Evaluation within the Judicial Department, testified before the committee. Mr. Wagner introduced himself and members of the commission present at the meeting. He discussed the purpose and history of the commission. Mr. Wager provided information about judicial evaluation and retention, including recommendations and retention rates. He also discussed the effect of evaluations on judges. Mr. Wagner discussed the number of district commissions, commissioner appointment authorities, and commissioner terms. He explained the training that commissioners receive.
Mr. Wagner explained the evaluation process and criteria, including the sources of information used in making an evaluation.
Mr. Wagner continued discussing the information used by the commission in making evaluations, including interviews with the judges being evaluated. He explained the commissioners' process for finalizing the narrative and recommendation that appears in the State Ballot Information Book sent to voters (commonly known as the blue book). Mr. Wagner discussed the commission's voter engagement work.
Mr. Wagner explained that the commission is funded by a cash fund, but received some general fund money in recent years. He stated that the commission uses funds to improve evaluations and increase public education. He explained commission initiatives to perform its work. Mr. Wagner discussed how the commission receives feedback from the public. Mr. Wagner continued to talk about the commission's rulemaking authority and legislative work.
Mr. Wagner responded to questions about the input the commission receives from judges other than the one being evaluated, appellate record evaluations, and practices in other states. He also responded to a question concerning the frequency of evaluations and litigant surveys.
Mr. Wagner continued to respond to committee questions, including those concerning data used in making evaluations, and the composition of the judicial performance evaluation system, including the size and nature of local commissions. He responded to a question concerning combining the work of the local and state commissions.
Mr. Wagner introduced commissioners present at the meeting.
10:44 AM -- Chief Judge of the 19th Judicial District, James Hartmann, Jr., testified before the committee. Chief Judge Hartmann discussed being subject to evaluation and retention elections, and his role in the evaluation process as chief judge. He stated the importance of reports received from the commission, and explained how he, as chief judge, uses those reports. He also discussed feedback that the court receives from the public, including pro se litigants. He also discussed merit selection of judges in other states, and stated support for Colorado's current system.
Chief Judge Hartmann explained his recommendations for improving the performance evaluation system, including in-person meetings for interim evaluations and identifying ways, other than the blue book, to provide information to the public. He responded to committee questions concerning working with other chief judges in managing judges, judge performance improvement plan funding and resources, and the applicant pool for judges and how performance evaluations may impact that pool.
Chief Judge Hartmann discussed tactics for improving judge demeanor.
Senator Gardner explained the procedures for public testimony.
11:07 AM -- Mr. Chris Forsyth, representing The Judicial Integrity Project, testified before the committee. He distributed materials to the committee (Attachment A). Mr. Forsyth explained his work on judicial matters. He stated that the judicial branch has too much power. He walked the committee through Attachment A, and commented on what he believes are the deficiencies in the judicial performance evaluation system.
In response to a question, Mr. Forsyth commented on issues with the existing state commission, suggestions on moving the commission out of the judicial department, and the effect of moving the commission. Discussion ensued on this topic.
Mr. Forsyth responded to a question concerning the ability of district commissions to access certain information about judges. He commented on judicial discipline cases, and confidentiality issues.
11:24 AM -- Mr. Jeff Weist, representing the Colorado Civil Justice League, testified before the committee. He stated the importance of courts to the business community. He stated support for maintaining transparency in the evaluation process, and his position that case management should be weighted more in the process.
11:27 AM -- Mr. Peter Coulter, representing Transparent Courts, testified to the committee. He discussed the history of judicial performance commissions nationally. He discussed survey distribution and collection by the commission.
11:31 AM -- Ms. Luanne Fleming, representing Families Against Court Embezzlement Unethical Standards (FACEUS), testified before the committee. She discussed the Judicial Department, generally, and how the commission has not followed the law. She also discussed the public input process for the commission. She made suggestions for improving the commission. She responded to questions about specific reforms.
11:36 AM -- Mr. Robin Austin, representing FACEUS, testified before the committee. He discussed his concerns about the court system and oversight, and requested transparency and accountability in courts.
11:40 AM -- Mr. Cliff Battista, representing himself, testified before the committee. He commented on prior testimony and explained the need for judicial evaluation reform.
11:42 AM -- Ms. Sophia San Miguel, representing herself, testified before the committee. She commented on peoples' experiences when judges make decisions, and her personal experience in the court system.
11:45 AM -- Mr. Matt Arnold, representing Clear the Bench Colorado, testified before the committee. He stated that there is a lack of accountability and transparency in judicial evaluation. He discussed his concerns regarding the exclusivity of the commission's work and issues pertaining to the commission's duties. He explained that the commission is political, the review process is not transparent, the process is biased, and the voting recommendations are offensive.
11:51 AM -- Mr. Scott Gessler, representing himself, testified before the committee. He stated that he is a commissioner, but clarified that his remarks were made in his personal capacity. He stated that the commission should be reformed. He explained that the commission cannot review all of the cases on which a judge rules. Mr. Gessler recommended increasing the use of surveys, performing interim reviews, and shortened retention periods based on evaluations. Mr. Gessler suggested the commission should look at systemic judicial training issues. He responded to a question concerning the intervals of evaluation by stating that the review period should be shortened. He also responded to a question about changing the substance of litigant surveys.
12:00 PM -- Ms. Angie Layton, representing herself, testified before the committee. She discussed her experience as an attorney receiving judicial performance surveys. She spoke about judicial performance surveys, generally.
12:04 PM -- Ms. Ruth Sadler, representing FACEUS, testified before the committee. Ms. Sadler stated that the blue book information is inaccurate. She claimed that judges are not disciplined. Ms. Sadler discussed her experience with courts.
12:08 PM -- Ms. Debra Carroll, representing herself, testified before the committee. She discussed conflicts of interest, including the policies of the General Mills corporation. She stated that the commission's evaluation criteria do not appropriately consider outcomes. She also discussed other issues relating to courts.
12:13 PM -- Ms. Rosemary VanGorder, representing herself, testified before the committee. She discussed the situations of specific judges and their retention elections. She commented on magistrate and judge accountability, specifically chief judge accountability.
12:17 PM -- Mr. Darin Barrett, representing himself, testified before the committee. He discussed the 2016 blue book and his jury duty service. He also stated that attorneys are fearful of speaking against judges. Mr. Barrett discussed his experience as a court watcher.
12:20 PM -- Mr. Mike Maday, representing the commission, testified before the committee concerning commission reauthorization.
The committee adjourned.