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A call for more transparency, accessible information on voting for Colorado judges

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- With the 2022 Midterm General Election days away, it's important for voters to be informed. However, one former district attorney is calling for more transparency when it comes to the process of keeping Colorado's highest court officers on the bench.

Former Republican district attorney George Brauchler believes the information on the retention of county district judges in the voter ballot information booklet just isn't enough.

"There just isn't very good, objective information out there, and I think that folks need to understand it's by design," Brauchler said. "We have a deliberately opaque system that just doesn't provide a lot of good information to make decisions on."

Brauchler also questioned the information people get from the Judicial Performance Evaluations listed in the booklet.

Since 1966, Colorado judges weren't selected by voters, it's been a "merit-based selection."

Since then, the process for electing judges works like this; the judicial nominators in each county review the applications and conduct interviews of some or all of the applicants for a judicial vacancy. The nominating commission then selects candidates who will be forwarded to the Governor. The Governor has 15 days after receiving the names from the nominating commission to appoint a candidate to the bench.

Once in their position, that's when voters are asked whether or not to retain a judge during elections.

What are voters told about judges?

Included in the information booklet on judges, there is a judicial review evaluation. Judges are surveyed by attorneys who practice law in their courtrooms and non-attorneys, or members of the public, who had interactions with judges in their courtrooms.

Brauchler believes those evaluations don't show the whole picture.

"What they don't give us are any true metrics like who's the most overturned judge jurisdiction, what's their rate of being overturned when they're challenged," Brauchler questioned. "How about which judge grants PR bonds more than any other? That seems like that would be an objective criteria to look at."

In El Paso County and Pueblo County, all of the judges up for retention are "meeting performance standards," which is reflected in the booklet. However, some are well below the average scores for all county or district judges.

In El Paso County, District Judge Marla Prudek received a 2.8 out of 4.0 score on her judicial performance evaluation. The average score for all District Court Judges is 3.4. In that survey, only 35% of non-attorneys stated that Judge Prudek met performance standards. Given those data points, Prudek still "meets performance standards."

In Pueblo County, District Judge Amiel Markenson's judicial performance evaluation scored him a 2.7. Again, the average score for District Court Judges is 3.4, yet Markenson is "meeting performance standards."

A nonpartisan selection process

The selection is also supposed to be nonpartisan, meaning the political affiliation of the nominating committee members shouldn't play a part in selecting a judge.

According to state law, no more than four members of the same political party can serve on the same county's judicial nominating board.

The latest roster of nominators from 2022 in El Paso County shows four democrats and two unaffiliated members, no republicans.

El Paso County Judicial Nominators

Brauchler questioned why only four out of 35 judicial nominators in the five most populous counties in Colorado are republicans.

"We talk about how it's a merit-based system, it's not political at all. That's pretty fake. And probably the best example of that is looking at El Paso County," Brauchler alleged. "Here [El Paso County] is a jurisdiction that hasn't elected a democrat D.A in my lifetime that I can think of, and yet there isn't a single Republican on the nominating commission."

13 Investigates reached out to Governor Jared Polis' office to comment on Brauchler's accusations of a partisan divide in the political parties associated with the judicial nominators in Colorado.

Governor Jared Polis' office said they conduct due diligence and interview the candidates, and receive extensive input from the public, attorneys, and judges on the strengths and weaknesses of the finalists.

His office also provided the following statement:

"The Governor takes the responsibility of judicial appointments very seriously and the Governor considers all factors when appointing a judge to the bench. The Polis Administration is committed to choosing the very best judges from the finalists presented for the state court bench by the respective judicial nominating commission. He particularly encourages more Republicans and Unaffiliated Coloradans to apply to serve on judicial nominating commissions."

Spokesperson for Governor Jared Polis

"We're led to believe from that suggested answer that it's because they're not applying for it. There's an easy way to prove that you don't have to give us the names, give us the statistics of who they are, and then maybe we ask for the names after that," Brauchler said.

The 2022 Judicial Performance Evaluations of judges in each Colorado county are available here.

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Sean Rice

Sean is reporter with the 13 Investigates team. Learn more about him here.


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