Balance sought for judicial nominating panels

Gov. John Hickenlooper and the state’s courts are looking for people to serve on the nearly two dozen state panels that nominate judges.

There are 46 openings on 20 of the 23 judicial nominating commissions, which review applications for new judges and recommend three to the governor, who makes the final choice.

By law, those seven-member panels are not allowed to have more than four people from the same political party, and traditionally governors name people to them to favor their own party. Three of those members are attorneys.

While the law requires the governor to choose all non- attorneys to the panels, he, the state’s attorney general and the chief justice of the Colorado Supreme Court jointly pick the attorneys.

Under former Gov. Bill Ritter, a Democrat, 15 of the commissions had more Democrats than Republicans, including the 7th and 21st judicial district commissions, which serve Montrose and Mesa counties, respectively.

Only two favored the GOP, while the remainder had three members from both parties and one unaffiliated member.

Hickenlooper promises to do it differently.

“The state Constitution requires nominating commissions to have no more than half plus one member from the same political party,” said Hickenlooper’s press secretary, Eric Brown. “We want as much balance on those commissions as possible.”

During his four years in office, Ritter named 113 people to the bench. His predecessor, Republican Gov. Bill Owens, who served eight years in office, selected 176. Although both men appointed more judges who hailed from their own parties, it’s unclear how many because political affiliation isn’t tracked, Colorado Judicial Branch spokesman Jon Sarche said.

But checking the political affiliations of the seven judges Hickenlooper has named in his eight months in office against the state’s voter registration database show six are Democrats and one is a Republican.

Those nominees, however, came from nominating commissions largely appointed by Ritter. Currently, 78 of those commission members are Democrats, 50 are Republican and 17 unaffiliated.

Still, Brown insists the governor won’t look at party affiliation, at least when it comes to the judges he names.

“The governor considers a variety of factors when appointing a judge, including life experiences and judicial temperament. Political affiliation is not a factor,” Brown said. “Predominantly GOP or Democratic judicial districts should expect the governor to appoint a judge who will serve his or her community fairly and honestly.”

Hickenlooper will have a chance to change the makeup of the commissions, but not by much. Of the 46 openings, 24 are non-attorneys. Of them, 18 are currently filled by Republicans and eight by Democrats.


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