Colorado: Changes to Judicial Performance Evaluation system set for House vote; commissions would no longer issue “retain/do not retain” recommendations to voters

A plan (HB 1303) to revamp Colorado’s Judicial Performance Evaluation system is set for a vote by the House this week. The plan would make changes to the existing system of statewide and district-based commissions that put out evaluations of judges for voters to examine. Among the changes:

  1. Commissions would have the power to recommend after an interim evaluation that a judge be subject to a judicial improvement plan.
  2. The commissions would be required to create a “standards matrix” and clearly define or describe whether a judge “meets performance standard” or “does not meet performance standard” and defined how that information will be made available to the public.
  3. During an election year, commissions would no longer issue a statement for
    “retain”, “do not retain”, or “no opinion”.
  4. Adds senior, retired judges who have returned to temporary judicial duties per contract with the judicial department to the list of those evaluated.
  5. The creation of a systemwide volunteer courtroom observer program.
  6. Currently commission members serve for 4 years. HB 1303 calls for the terms of sitting members to be cut short as of February 1, 2019.
  7. Membership on the commissions would change, with House and Senate minority leaders getting to select members of the commissions.
Current State and District (10 members) New State (11 members) New District (10 members)
Speaker of the House 1 attorney, 1 nonattorney 1 attorney, 1 nonattorney 1 attorney, 1 nonattorney
President of the Senate 1 attorney, 1 nonattorney 1 attorney, 1 nonattorney 1 attorney, 1 nonattorney
Governor 1 attorney, 2 nonattorneys 1 attorney, 2 nonattorneys 2 nonattorneys
Chief Justice 1 attorney, 2 nonattorneys 2 attorneys 2 attorneys
House Minority Leader n/a 1 nonattorney 1 nonattorney
Senate Minority leader n/a 1 nonattorney 1 nonattorney

HB 1303 could be voted on by the full House as early as today.

Colorado: House amended bill still allows trial judges to rule on their own disqualification motions, but allows for interlocutory appeal

A plan to require trial judges in civil cases refer a motion to disqualify to another judge for determination has been heavily amended.

HB 1132 as introduced gave the judge who was the subject of such a disqualification motion two options:

  1. grant the motion (and have the chief judge assign a new judge) or
  2. certify the motion to the chief judge of the court for the chief judge to make the determination. If the targeted judge is the chief judge of the court, the chief judge must certify the motion to a chief judge of an “adjoining, like jurisdiction.”

HB 1132 as amended and approved by the House provides that the trial judge will continue to determine, and even reject, such a disqualification motion and must do so within 63 days in a signed, written order.

  1. If granted, the case is reassigned
  2. If denied, a petition for review of the motion to disqualify may be filed in a higher court as an interlocutory appeal (County Court to District Court, District Court to Court of Appeals). Such a petition “must be expedited on the reviewing court’s docket.”

HB 1132 as amended was approved 64-1 in the house on April 20 and is set for a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 1.

Colorado: Senate committee advances bill repealing 2015 law linking legislative salaries to judicial salaries; executive salaries would still be linked

A 2015 law that links the salaries of Colorado’s state legislators and top executive officials to judicial salaries could be heading for a partial repeal.

SB 288 of 2015, discussed here, made the link for both legislators and top executive branch officials (Governor, Lt. Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State, and State Treasurer). Legislators received an amount equal to 25% of the total annual salary paid to the judges of the county court in a Class B county.

SB 288 of 2017 effectively decouples the salaries for legislators. 25% of current salaries for county court in a Class B county would serve as the base-point for legislative salaries starting in 2019. Thereafter, there would be inflation adjustments to the legislative salaries starting in 2025.

SB 288 was approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee and floor amended earlier this week. It is currently on the Senate’s April 17 floor calendar.

Bans on court use of sharia/international law: 19 bills in 14 states; Arkansas enacts, North Dakota rejects as an “insult to our judges”

Efforts to ban state courts from using or referencing foreign/international law in general, and sharia law in particular, continue apace with two legislatures approving versions while a bill in North Dakota was rejected.

Arkansas enacted a ban (HB 1041). An earlier version noted here would have re-declared that marriage in Arkansas was limited to a man and a woman, despite a U.S. Supreme Court decision saying the opposite. The amended/enacted HB 1041 provides

A court ruling or decision violates the public policy of this state and is void and unenforceable if the court bases its ruling or decision in the matter at issue in whole or in part on any foreign law, legal code, or system that does not grant the parties affected by the ruling or decision one (1) or more of the following fundamental rights, liberties, and privileges granted under the Arkansas Constitution or the United States Constitution:
(1) The right to due process;
(2) The right to equal protection;
(3) Freedom of religion;
(4) Freedom of speech;
(5) Freedom of the press;
(6) The right to keep and bear arms;
(7) The right to privacy; or
(8) The right to marry, as “marriage” is defined by the Arkansas Constitution, to the extent that the definition of marriage does not conflict with federal law or a holding by the United States Supreme Court.

Meanwhile the Montana legislature approved a version (SB 97) that is currently pending on the governor’s desk that reads in operative part

A court, arbitration, tribunal, or administrative agency ruling or decision violates the public policy of Montana and is void and unenforceable if the court, arbitration, tribunal, or administrative agency bases its ruling or decision on a law, legal code, or system that would not grant the parties affected by the ruling or decision the fundamental liberties, rights, and privileges granted under the Montana constitution or the United States constitution, including but not limited to due process, equal protection, freedom of religion, speech, or press, the right to keep and bear arms, and any right of privacy or marriage.

Finally, North Dakota’s House approved HB 1425 in February, but in late March the Senate rejected the proposal. At issue was the situation similar to Arkansas, namely, that the bill would have attempted to re-establish a ban on same-sex marriage. Senators objected to the marriage provision and amended it out, but also worried this was an “insult to our judges” and assumes North Dakota judges would violate the U.S. and North Dakota Constitutions without this bill.

Full list of bills below the fold.

Continue reading Bans on court use of sharia/international law: 19 bills in 14 states; Arkansas enacts, North Dakota rejects as an “insult to our judges”

Special Edition: Colorado fee/fine/cost legislation in the 2017 session

HB 1162 Repeals the current penalties (cancellation of driver’s license, inability to receive new license, inability to renew license) for failing to appear at a hearing or failing to pay the fine for certain traffic infractions. Provides the courts with the option of withholding a driver’s state income tax refund in order to satisfy an outstanding judgment. In House Judiciary Committee.

Colorado: bill requires a judge in a civil case refer a motion to disqualify to another judge for determination

A bill up for a hearing next week in the Colorado House would require judges in civil matters refer motions to disqualify to some other judge.

HB 1132 as introduced starts by providing a list of reasons to file a motion to disqualify a judge and the process associated with filing the motion (e.g. must be supported by affidavit, must be filed within 21 days, etc.)

It then follows by giving the judge targeted in the motion two options: grant the motion (and have the chief judge assign a new judge) or certify the motion to the chief judge of the court for the chief judge to make the determination. If the targeted judge is the chief judge of the court, the chief judge must certify the motion to a chief judge of an “adjoining, like jurisdiction.”

HB 1132 is set for a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee next week.

 

Colorado: bill calls for overhaul of state’s judicial performance evaluation system

A plan to overhaul Colorado’s system of judicial performance evaluations has been filed in the House. HB 1235 would impact both the State Commission on Judicial Performance and the District Commissions on Judicial Performance.

Among the bill’s provisions:

  • The state commission must include 1 representative from each judicial district in state (the state has 22 districts)
  • Reduces terms on state commission from 4 years down to 2 years
  • Each commission must have an annual public meeting at which the public is invited to attend and confidentially comment on any justice or judge
  • Allows public to submit for commission review and all opinions and orders written by the judge
  • Judicial evaluations must take place every 2 years and be made public at that time (currently only needs to be made public during retention year)
  • Makes all commission proceedings subject to open meetings law
  • Prohibits district commissioners appointed by chief justice from serving on state commission
  • Changes “do not retain” criteria, provides for automatic “do not retain” recommendation if 2/3rds of attorneys surveyed recommend the judge or justice not be retained
  • Prohibits District Court Administrator from serving as staff to the local district commission (they may serve as staff to another district’s commission)
  • Prohibits state commission from restricting information given to district commissions or from reviewing determinations made by district commissions
  • Annually release to commissioners the judges’ credit reports, driving records, criminal histories, and public financial disclosures

Interestingly, the bill was not sent to the House Judiciary Committee but into the House State, Veterans, & Military Affairs Committee.