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This month's newsletter...

CJI Announces 2017 Judicial Excellence Awards Honorees

Selecting only three honorees from among this year’s outstanding nominees was difficult for the CJI Awards Committee.  Each nominee is an example of the best of Colorado’s judiciary.  After careful deliberation, the committee selected the following 2017 Judicial Excellence Awards Honorees:

District Court Judge John Popovich, 17th Judicial District (retired)
County Court Judge Gary Jackson, 2nd Judicial District
Magistrate Frances Johnson, 4th Judicial District

In addition, CJI will present a Judicial Leadership Award in 2017:

Judge Gale Miller, Colorado Court of Appeals (retired)

All four will be recognized at the Judicial Excellence for Colorado Dinner on October 18, 2017, 6 p.m., at the Denver Marriott City Center, 1701 California Street.  Individual seats for this event are on sale at here.  Information on sponsoring a table for the event is on the CJI website here.

 New JPE Legislation Brings New…and Old…Challenges

By Cynthia Ophaug-Johansen, CJI Staff

The Colorado Judicial Institute has been closely monitoring Colorado’s Judicial Performance Evaluation legislation, scheduled to sunset in 2019.  The legislation that will replace it, House Bill 17-1303, passed with only three no votes and was signed by Governor Hickenlooper on June 5th.  The consensus in the judicial system is that only time will tell if the latest legislation is both “new” and “improved”.

“Our system wasn’t perfect but it was pretty good,” said Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Nancy Rice.  Rice pointed to judicial evaluation statistics that sometimes didn’t gather enough data to be significant in the old system and the ongoing challenges of both getting enough respondents and getting respondents who accurately represent the citizens appearing before a judge.  Still, she says, she didn’t have many other concerns.

Rice says that the new legislation needs meat on its bones. For example, instead of recommending “retain” under the new legislation, commissions will decide whether a judge “meets performance standards”.  However, the bill does not define “performance standards”, nor does it lay out the standards matrix that will be used for evaluating judges.  Rather it is relying on the interpretation of a district’s Judicial Performance Evaluation Commissioners.  The new legislation also removes the Colorado Supreme Court as the final approval for rules created by the state’s Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission.  

“The rules are not well defined and that raises concerns.  The new rules need to be specific.  That will develop over time.  And there is room for lots of input in the new system,” said Rice.

And that is the new legislation’s strength, with more transparency to how judges, especially new judges, are performing.  The bill requires the district commissions to conduct an interim evaluation similar to the retention evaluation within the first two years after a judge’s appointment to the bench and allows the commissions to conduct more interim evaluations at their discretion.  Currently, county court judges receive a performance evaluation every four years, district court judges every six years, court of appeals judges every eight years, and supreme court justices every ten years. Justices and judges receive an interim evaluation at mid-point in the term. However, those evaluations consisted primarily of survey results which only became public when the justice or judge next stood for retention. Under the new legislation commissions will conduct a full evaluation and produce a narrative for each interim evaluation they perform.

That additional evaluation information is useful not just to the judges but in educating citizens preparing for court says Kent Wagner, executive director of Colorado's Office of Judicial Performance Evaluation.  “Respondents can feel like they know who a judge is before they walk in the courtroom.  Even just knowing the criteria gives people a sense of who that judge is as a person,” says Wagner.

Both Wagner and Rice agree that House Bill 17-1303 allows Colorado’s citizens more opportunities to participate in the judicial evaluation system through volunteer courtroom observer programs; although the state commission still needs to develop rules for the program.  

The new legislation also takes into account the increased number of pro se litigants in the state’s judicial system.  “Pro se litigants are such a huge percentage of our court cases that they have been under represented.  The new legislation will give these folks more of a voice,” said Rice.

CJI observed the legislation all the way through the process according to CJI Public Policy Committee Chair Marilyn Chappell of Sweetbaum Sands Anderson PC.  “We did not take a position on the bill. However, I and others presented statements to the legislative committee.  This is part of the system that has worked well for the people of Colorado.  We want to make sure it still does,” said Chappell.

“I was pleased to have groups like CJI and the Colorado Bar testify in the legislative hearings.  The state commission also launched a listening tour around the state.  They had a good understanding of the issues and the process.  I’m happy with the final product,” said Justice Rice.

To see the enacted House Bill 17-1303 concerning Judicial Performance Evaluation System and Commissions go to:  The act will take effect August 9, 2017.


CJI welcomes the submission of guest articles directly related to our mission and activities.  Upon careful review by CJI officers and staff, submissions may be published in the newsletter.  Questions about submitting articles for the CJI newsletter should be directed to the CJI office via email or phone at 303-766-7501.

Past CJI Newsletters

New at CJI: Judicial Excellence Nominees Announced and CJI Welcomes New Board Members
New at CJI: Education Grants for Pro Se Litigant Training/Nominations Open for Judicial Excellence Awards
Colorado Celebrates 50th Anniversary of Judicial Merit Selection
Support CJI on Colorado Give Day, December 6
Judicial Excellence Dinner Celebrates 50 Years of Fair and Impartial Courts
Reserve your Seats Now for the 2016 Judicial Excellence Dinner
CJI Supports Amendment 71
Politico Author to Speak at CJI Dinner/CJI Tackles ADR Issues
CJI Announces 2016 Judicial Excellence Awards Honorees/CJI’s Public Education Program Adopts the Informed Voters and Fair Courts Project
Results of CJI Annual Meeting Elections/Judicial Excellence Awards Nominees Announced
Flood of ‘Dark Money' Drowns Public Confidence in Politics
CJI to Recognize Five Judicial Officers at 2015 Judicial Excellence for Colorado Dinner
CJI Welcomes New CBA Executive Director and Elects New Board Members at Annual Meeting
Judicial Election Spending Decried at 2014 Judicial Excellence for Colorado Dinner
“Know Your Judge” Also Means “Know the Process”
Is it I? The President of the American Judicature Society Reflects on the Bias Inherent in Judicial Elections
Plaintiff in Caperton Vs. Massey Speaks on Impact of Campaign Money
CJI Honors Five Outstanding Jurists for Maintaining Excellence in Colorado Courts
O’Connor Gives Merit System Ringing Endorsement
Chief Justice’s Directive Defines Aid to Pro Se Litigants; Changes Tone of Colorado Courts
States Making it Harder to Get Timely Justice
Iowa Experience Shows Vital Role of CJI
CJI Newsletter Special Editon September 2010
CJI Supports Amendment 71


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