Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Far better to have elected judges

There was an article in the New York Times on Dec. 24, 2009, about the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System at the University of Denver, headed by Rebecca Kourlis, a former Colorado Supreme Court justice.

Rebecca Kourlis's writings as a justice reveal an agenda, which is to make it impossible for injured persons (meaning, plaintiffs who sue well-funded defendants) to have access to the courts. This is the kind of "advance" she wishes to see in the American legal system: more hurdles to tort plaintiffs in bringing their claims, for example, as well as the removal of governmental restrictions on real estate and water development. In numerous cases she has argued, in lone dissents, for the strengthening of landowners' defenses against tort liability; for ways to close the courthouse door against injured persons; and for loosening already loose restrictions on subdividers. In water cases, she avidly made the "notice" requirement, by which injured water rights owners are apprised of applications which might affect their rights so they can come into court and object, so broad, and including such vague, obscure references, as to effectively disembowel the requirement of notice.

The goal of doing away with the election of judges in other states, based on the Colorado "success story," I see as an important part of Ms. Kourlis's plan. Colorado is not a success story. The appointment of judges here is done under a veil of secrecy, completely removes all opportunity for the public to be heard, and has resulted in people holding judgeships who were never vetted by the bar and are plainly beholden to the political interests which put them in office.

Even after their appointment, almost no information is available about them. I have tried to get letters of recommendation written on behalf of judges when they applied for their judgeships and found I am barred by statute. I have asked Attorney Registration for information about past law firm employment, and been told they "do not keep old records." The Commission on Judicial Discipline also is prohibited from revealing information about complaints filed against judges. All of this information would be highly relevant to assessing whether a judge has a conflict in a case, as well as fundamental to assessing a judge's performance, but we are denied it.

The retention election, after a judge's appointment by the governor, is a meaningless exercise: the judges are always retained, with only two exceptions I can think of, where the power structure (with their lapdog The Denver Post) turned public opinion against them.

While there are obvious problems with electing judges, and letting them campaign and accept campaign contributions, those could be removed in one fell swoop with publicly funded elections. But there is never any discussion of this option, in this state.

--Alison Maynard

No comments:

Post a Comment