Judge’s leave a mystery as review hearing nears

QUICKREAD

Judicial performance hearing details

The 9th Judicial District Commission on Judicial Performance will hold a public hearing from 6 to 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Garfield County Courthouse, 200 W. 18th St., Rifle.

Ninth District judges up for a retention vote this year are District Court Judge Gail Nichols, Garfield County Court Judge Jason Jovanovich, Garfield County Court Judge Paul Metzger, Pitkin County Court Judge Erin Fernandez-Ely and Rio Blanco County Court Judge Laurie Noble. Anyone interested in commenting on the performance of these judges may speak at this hearing. The commission will consider the hearing statements, surveys of various parties who have appeared before judges, interviews with the judges, and other information in providing a recommendation to voters on whether to retain a judge.



The public will get a chance Wednesday to offer comments about a Garfield County judge who has been on indefinite leave since May 4.

However, people still aren’t being provided official information on the circumstances that led to Judge Jason Jovanovich going on leave. Jon Sarche,  a spokesman for the Colorado State Court Administrator’s Office, is only confirming the leave and saying it is indefinite.

District Attorney Martin Beeson has said he was informed Jovanovich was on leave with pay, and he wasn’t told the reason why.

The situation arises as the 9th Judicial District Commission on Judicial Performance is evaluating Jovanovich and several other judges in preparation for recommending to voters whether they should be retained in this fall’s election.

The commission is holding a hearing on the judges Wednesday. It held a previous hearing the week Jovanovich went on leave, and numerous Garfield County defense attorneys showed up to speak in support of the judge.

One of them, Tom Silverman, said such a high turnout by attorneys for such a hearing is unusual, and that the hearing lasted perhaps five hours. Silverman said he told the commission that Jovanovich’s positive attributes outweighed his negative ones, and that he supported Jovanovich’s retention as judge.

The review commission’s work did not contribute to Jovanovich going on leave.

“We’re not part of that process, if it’s going on or not — we don’t know. It’s not part of our consideration,” said the commission’s chairman, David Hallford.

A separate panel, the Colorado Commission on Judicial Discipline, has disciplinary authority over judges and responds to any complaints brought against them. William Campbell, interim executive director of the commission, said he can’t comment on whether Jovanovich is under investigation.

Jovanovich did not respond to a request for comment.

During an investigation, the commission can ask the Supreme Court to temporarily suspend a judge with pay, pending preliminary or formal resolution of the matter. Alternatively, a judge can voluntarily agree to temporary suspension.

Beeson has said he hopes Jovanovich returns to the bench soon. Several Garfield County defense attorneys, including Ted Hess, Walt Brown, Pete Rachesky and Chip McCrory, said in interviews they think Jovanovich is a good judge.

“He’s an awesome judge,” said Rachesky.

But Hess and Brown said they knew he has had strained relations with his court clerk’s office in Rifle. Kathy Schouten, the clerk of court there, declined to comment.

Some of the attorneys also noted that Jovanovich is well-known for being highly talkative during sentencings, often citing his own life experiences.

They said they see value in that and think it can be helpful to defendants.

“A lot of people think that can be pretty effective,” Hess said.

But he said he’s also seen people sometimes grimace and say Jovanovich might be headed for trouble if he doesn’t restrain his commentary.

Said Silverman, “I think that he should be more circumspect in his comments from the bench.”

Jovanovich drew a lot of attention in 2006 when he said that if he could, he’d kill all pit bulls, and it should be illegal to own them. He made the comment while sentencing the owner of a pit bull that attacked a Silt woman.


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