Proposed 2012 ballot issue would change Colorado’s judicial system | VailDaily.com

Proposed 2012 ballot issue would change Colorado’s judicial system

Lynn Bartels
The Denver Post

DENVER – Even if four state Supreme Court justices survive an attempt to remove them from the bench this election, another effort is underway to seriously alter Colorado’s judiciary system.

A proposed ballot measure for the 2012 election would change how Colorado’s judges are appointed and how long they could serve. It would trim the number of Supreme Court justices from seven to five and require Senate confirmation hearings for appointees.

The proposal, although a long way from becoming reality, has caused consternation.

“It injects more politics into the system,” said Chuck Turner, president of the Colorado Bar Association.

“All you have to do is look at what is happening in Washington today to see how people line up and make this a partisan process,” Turner said, referring to U.S. Supreme Court nominations before the Senate.

Those hearings are necessary, Turner said, because U.S. Supreme Court justices typically serve for life. In Colorado, he said, judges come up for “retention” before the voters and can be removed from the bench.

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The measure was filed by Dennis Polhill of Golden, a Republican who has filed a number of ballot measures, and Douglas Campbell of Arvada, who has run for statewide office as the American Constitution Party candidate. Campbell also served as former Rep. Douglas Bruce’s aide in 2008.

Campbell said he doesn’t think Senate confirmation hearings, which would follow committee hearings where the public can testify, would politicize the process.

Polhill said he thinks “modest” changes are needed in a system that is already superior to many states.

“I’m very uncomfortable with the states that have partisan-elected judges,” he said.

Colorado’s system, in place since 1966, has received national praise. Nonpartisan nominating commissions interview candidates when there is vacancy on the bench and send two or three names to the governor.

The person the governor picks must run in the next general election and again every time his or her term is up.

Coloradans in 2006 rejected term limits for judges, voting down Amendment 40. It would have limited appellate-court justices to a maximum of 10 years on the bench.

This election, the group Clear the Bench Colorado is advocating voters reject all four Supreme Court justices up for retention because of rulings it believes are unconstitutional.

Lynn Bartels: 303-954-5327 or lbartels@denverpost.com