Colorado Supreme Court

Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel

Promoting Professionalism. Protecting the Public.

Justice is blind. You don't have to be

When your friends inevitably call to ask about those judges at the end of the ballot, here’s what you say.



Summer 2016


Every election year, you get the call.


You're the lawyer in your friend group or the only attorney in your family. And they all want to know: Should I retain these judges at the end of the ballot? Maybe you know the judge, but more likely you don't. Wouldn't it be nice if you could point your friends to a tidy review of each judge?


Well, you can.


For decades, Colorado Commissions on Judicial Performance and the Office of Judicial Performance Evaluations has been doing the yeoman's work that underpins how voters obtain information and cast their vote for our judges during elections. The Office and commissions compile surveys, interview courtroom participants and conduct direct observation of judges. It then reviews the materials and releases performance evaluations, a summary of which is available in voters' so-called "blue books."


Kent Wagner, a lawyer and Executive Director of OJPE, said he hopes lawyers who are asked about judges take it as a teaching moment. "We want attorneys to educate the public about the process."


That process is the merit selection system and is considered the gold standard for judicial appointments. When judges don't have to campaign for office, the focus remains on qualifications, not politics. This year, the office is helping celebrate the 50th anniversary of Colorado's merit selection system. As part of that system, members of the bench have to stand for retention at regular intervals. And voters often want to find out more about the judges for whom they're voting. That's where the OJPE comes in.


Commissions in local judicial districts evaluate trial judges and the State Commission on Judicial Performance evaluates appellate judges who serve on the Colorado Supreme Court and Colorado Court of Appeals. These commissions are composed of 10 appointed members, including four attorneys and six non-attorneys.


This year, there are 108 judges on the ballot. To assess their fairness and impartiality, OJPE sent out 83,000 questionnaires to litigants, witnesses, attorneys, court staff, probation officers, and jurors who had interactions with the judges. Commissions also held numerous public hearings and interviews in judicial districts across the state to solicit input on the performance of judges in that locale. The result of this work are short blue book narratives that include the commission's recommendation and vote count, biographical information on the judge, and descriptions of a judge's performance strengths and weaknesses.


Wagner said there is a level of information for any type of voter. Maybe a voter feels they only need to know if the commission recommended retention or not. (Of the 108, there are two judges this year who commissioners recommended to not retain.) If a voter wants a little more information, he or she can read the blue book narratives. For the deep-dive researcher, full survey results are available on the OJPE's website.


And for those who may experience ballot fatigue before reaching the judicial retention votes, Wagner has another piece of advice: "Start at the bottom."


James Carlson is the Information Resources Coordinator for the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel.