Introduction To Citizen's Review Of Colorado Judges

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| Chapter 7 — Colorado Judges — Citizen's Review |

| Next —Judging Judges by Charles E. Corry, Ph.D. |


 
It has long been my opinion, and I have never shrunk from its expression,... that the germ of dissolution of our Federal Government is in the constitution of the Federal Judiciary — an irresponsible body, working like gravity by night and by day, gaining a little today and a little tomorrow, and advancing its noiseless step like a thief over the field of jurisdiction until all shall be usurped from the States and the government be consolidated into one. To this I am opposed.

Thomas Jefferson 1821


 

Index

Foreword

How the justice system is supposed to work but doesn't

Overview of Colorado state courts

First you must know what court you are before and if they have jurisdiction in your case

Summary of court functions

District attorneys

Municipal courts

County courts

District courts

Magistrates

Water courts

Colorado Court of Appeals

Colorado Supreme Court

United States courts


 

Foreword

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The more laws, the less justice.

Marcus Tullius Cicero

Roman Lawyer, Writer, Scholar, Orator, and Statesman

106 BC-43 BC

If you are seeking to understand how Colorado courts work may we suggest you start by reading Franz Kafka's book The Trial.
The intent of this chapter is to promote justice.

However, there are no simple, direct ways of accomplishing that known to the Equal Justice Foundation. Therefore, we put forward several paths toward that objective and we are open to others if suggested.

First, and foremost, unconstitutional, improper, and illegal actions and rulings by judges must be exposed. In this chapter we evaluate the actions of judges in state courts based on input from citizens, courtwatchers, newspapers, judicial performance commissions, court records and transcripts, and attorneys.

Citizens are strongly encouraged to submit their experiences with Colorado courts and the judges therein. We then link such stories and associated documentation to the individual judge(s) in the following sections.

It is fundamental to understand that the Equal Justice Foundation is as interested in documenting outstanding judges as we are in seeing incompetent and unqualified judges removed from the bench. Unfortunately, far too often citizens have reported injustices that, upon investigation, turn out to be the result of their own ignorance of our form of government and how the justice system works. To help in that regard we have provided an overview of Colorado state courts below that we hope will help many citizens avoid obvious mistakes, such as appealing to the wrong court, and minimize costs while navigating through the morass our justice system has become.

As is true in any profession there are many incompetent, dishonest, corrupt, lazy, uneducated, mentally-disturbed judges. Whether real or perceived, it appears that many judges in this group have migrated to our family courts. It is also our perception that in too many courtrooms today the emotions and feelings of the false god in the black robe sitting on the bench takes precedence over the state and federal Constitutions, the law, logic, and reason. If you should doubt that occurs may we suggest you look at the experience of Laura Kriho who was convicted of a felony because she voted her conscience while serving on a jury in Gilpin County (Judge Henry Nieto, First Judicial District, Case No. 96 CR 91). Thus, we provide an extensive discussion on how judges are evaluated.

All too often it is not the judge who is the problem in a citizen's case but the attorney they have hired. So we maintain a list of recommended attorneys and, for members only, a list of incompetent and corrupt attorneys who have come to our attention. And in criminal cases many prosecutors have absolutely no interest in justice, are authorized to lie and do, and their sole objective is a conviction without regard to guilt or innocence. After all, a prosecutor is promoted primarily on how successful they are at getting convictions by whatever means necessary. But those problems are covered in other chapters.


 

How the justice system is supposed to work but doesn't

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Before diving headlong into how dysfunctional Colorado courts are it is a good idea to understand how they are supposed to work and the relevant statutes. A general overview can be found in pages 21-28 of the Crime and Justice in Colorado 2008-2010 report. From there you can possibly determine what your next steps might be. And if the court you are complaining about is doing what it is charged to do you may have no options. But many courts, notably family and domestic courts, both in Colorado and the rest of the nation have become so mind-boggling dysfunctional that it is virtually impossible to describe the chaos and injustice to someone who has not been involved in one of these cases.

For the average citizen the only hope of justice is to stay out of court however and whenever possible. One of the best ways to do that is to not get married. If a man and woman want a lasting relationship they are infinitely better off to draw up a revocable trust between them spelling out in writing the contractual terms the responsibilities and obligations, particularly financial, of each. But going to the county clerk and getting a marriage licence for something that only has, at best, a 50% chance of succeeding, and is a virtual kiss of death for the losing half, is insane.

Once you end up in court don't expect to get out for years or with any assets or finances left.

The situation is even more dire for a man who sires a child. Today, as soon as you enter the courthouse the judge and his, or worse her cronies own the children. The sign over the courthouse door should read:

Then there is the slavery of men who have the misfortune to be named "father." Between 30% and 80% of paternity judgements are entered by default and the man becomes liable for child support payments based on "imputed" income indefinitely. Wages are garnished, professional and drivers licenses are revoked, and the man is often imprisoned even when he has no idea who the mother is or where she and the supposed "child" are located. And this as often happens to married men as single ones. And if it does prove possible to get DNA paternity testing done there is roughly a one-in-three chance the man is not the father, even if he was married to the mother. But likely he will still have to pay child support anyway.

As a result, for many years the Equal Justice Foundation has pointed out that under current laws a man has to be functionally insane to marry and a drooling idiot to sire a child.

And if you believe our society can long endure such insanity then you must be one of the judges whose perfidy we describe here.


 

Overview of Colorado state courts

The rules in many courts are easy to understand. Women have rights; men have responsibilities.

Ronald Henry, Attorney at law

If you wish to win your case, file a complaint, or seek to change the law it is critical that you first understand how the government is set up.

There are three independent branches of government in Colorado:

• The legislature composed of a House and Senate. They are responsible for passing all laws and if a citizen has a problem with a statute they should contact their state Representative or Senator but a state legislator cannot intervene in a court case as that is a separate and independent branch of government.

• The executive branch is charged with carrying out the duties imposed on it by the legislature and enforcing the laws. While the governor can veto a law when first passed, once it has been signed into law only the legislature can change or repeal it. However, citizens can file complaints against many state agencies and professionals through the Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA).

• The judiciary is charged with upholding the laws passed by the legislature and trying cases brought before it by citizens in civil suits and criminal cases brought by the executive branch. Judges may rule laws unconstitutional but they cannot change the law. Complaints about judicial performance should be addressed to the Commission on Judicial Discipline. Problems with attorneys should be addressed to the Attorney Regulation Counsel.

The Equal Justice Foundation is all too aware of how dysfunctional the government has become but if a citizen does not follow the established procedures it is quite unlikely their case will be considered.

First you must know what court you are before and if they have jurisdiction in your case

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Surprisingly, few citizens apparently have any idea how courts in Colorado are organized. Given the incompetence and arrogance exhibited by far too many judges today, it is critical that the citizen be aware of which level of court they are in and whether the judge has jurisdiction over the issue before the bar. For jurisdiction to be complete a court must have a concurrence of both subject matter and personal jurisdiction or subject matter and territorial jurisdiction. The most common issue the EJF has seen with jurisdiction is a judge assuming they have territorial jurisdiction when they don't. If there is any question about jurisdiction it must be challenged immediately and it is a more common issue than imagined.

There are six levels of courts in Colorado: municipal, county, district, water, appeals, and the state supreme court. In addition, Colorado contains the United States District Court for the District of Colorado and the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals of the federal court system. However, only judges in Colorado county, district, appeals, and the supreme court are included in the review in this chapter. Municipal and federal judges and cases are beyond the scope of this effort.

Summary of court functions

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A brief summary of what each level of court does may help clarify an individual's situation and whom they should be addressing their questions to, of which a citizen should have many. Note that each and every judge and magistrate has a clerk, and each judicial district has a court clerk who oversees all operations within the district. Typically, questions concerning a court or judge should first be addressed to that judge's or court's clerk.

It is also critical to distinguish whether the issue before the court is a civil or criminal matter. But in the past few decades the state legislature, to its disgrace, has blurred the distinction and many civil cases, particularly protection orders, now carry criminal penalties.

Basically, in a civil case a citizen or other eligible entity who has standing before the court, who is known as the Petitioner, files a lawsuit asking for redress against another citizen, corporation, or entity, who is known as the Respondent. Failure to obey a court ruling in a civil case is usually considered contempt and may result in incarceration, a fine, or both. However, under the current regime in issues like protection orders failure to obey the court order may also be treated as a crime.

In a criminal case it is the People vs. the Defendant. The People may represent a town or city, a county, or the state of Colorado. If it is a federal crime it is the United States vs. the Defendant.

 

 

 

District attorneys

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Generally the People will be represented by a district attorney, who is an elected official of the executive branch in state courts. In municipal and federal cases the district attorney is usually appointed, although district attorneys may be elected in some towns or cities. It is important to remember that district attorneys and their subordinates are members of the executive branch of government and thus are, and act independently of the judiciary. District attorneys are charged with enforcing the laws passed by the legislature or ordinances in the towns or cities where they serve. The U.S. Attorney for the Tenth Circuit, who is appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate, enforces federal laws and crimes on federal territory or military bases within Colorado, including tribal reservations.

While district attorneys are charged with enforcing the law they are given broad discretion as to whether or not to prosecute a particular case and what charges to bring against a Defendant. Thus, before a Defendant is charged a defense attorney may, and often should negotiate with the district attorney about what charges will be brought forward, or even argue for dismissal of the case as unfounded. However, once a Defendant is formally arraigned and charged, only the court can dismiss the case. That is often a point of confusion when citizens ask the EJF for advice.

It is of basic interest to note that district attorneys will make every effort, including torture, to coerce a defendant into accepting a plea bargain. To the detriment of justice 90% or more of criminal cases are settled by plea bargaining rather than by jury trial. While it is almost always to the great advantage of a defendant in a criminal case to demand a jury trial, where a plea bargain is in the defendant's best interest it is usually at the pretrial conference where the district attorney will make the best offer. To put it another way, a Defendant is a fool to take the first offer for a plea bargain the prosecutor makes, and a plea bargain can be arranged anytime until the jury returns a verdict at trial.

Municipal courts

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Many towns and cities in Colorado have local ordinances that are enforced by local police within the limits of the municipality. Such ordinances do not have the effect of law outside those boundaries and jurisdiction of a municipal court is limited to those ordinances and violations of such that occur within those boundaries. Such cases are prosecuted by the municipal district attorney.

Municipal judges are often part-time positions held by a local attorney. Usually they are appointed by, and serve at the pleasure of the town council or mayor. Occasionally they may have to stand for election but cronyism and the old-boy network almost always control who holds these positions.

Cases seen in a municipal court are typically traffic or very minor offenses, e.g. drinking in public. But some larger cities also allow municipal judges to hear domestic violence and abuse cases. Restraining orders may also come before the bar in a large city.

A bench, or trial by judge in a municipal court is virtually certain to result in a conviction. Unfortunately, many local ordinances don't allow for a jury trial but when a jury trial is an option a defendant should always demand one.

County courts

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County courts are part of the state court system that is divided into twenty-two judicial districts. Except for the Second, Tenth, Nineteenth, Twentieth, and Twenty-first judicial districts, all encompass more than one county, and a county judge may serve in more than one county.

Except in Denver, as part of the state court system, county judges are appointed by the governor from three candidates put forward by a judicial nominating commission within the judicial district. They then stand unopposed for retention after two years and every four years thereafter.

County court is a court of limited jurisdiction and handles civil cases under $15,000, misdemeanors, traffic infractions, some felony complaints, protection orders, and small claims. County court decisions may be appealed to the district court.

Almost inevitably, a bench trial, or trial by a county court judge is going to simply be a long, slow way of pleading guilty. With rare exceptions a litigant in county court should avail themselves of trial by jury.

District courts

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District judges are the senior judges within a Colorado judicial district and a chief judge is selected from the district judges in a given judicial district by the Chief Justice of the Colorado Supreme Court.

As part of the state court system, district judges are appointed by the governor from three candidates put forward by a judicial nominating commission within the judicial district. They then stand unopposed for retention after two years and every six years thereafter.

District court is a court of general jurisdiction and hears civil cases in any amount, as well as domestic relations (divorces), criminal, juvenile, probate, and mental health cases. In additions, some judicial districts have specialized courts such as drug courts, mental health courts, and lately veteran courts. Specialized courts may be run by a magistrate, county, or district judge appointed by the chief judge.

District court decisions may be appealed to the Colorado Court of Appeals and in limited cases directly to the Colorado Supreme Court. Most important cases in Colorado are heard first by a district court judge.

A district court judge may hear cases in any court within the judicial district and may often serve as a visiting judge in a neighboring district if there is a conflict of interest as in the recent case of 7 th Judicial District Attorney Myrl Serra.

As always, a bench trial, or trial by a district court judge is likely to simply be a long, slow way of pleading guilty. Far too many district judges are former prosecutors who assume all defendants must be guilty. A litigant or defendant in district court should always avail themselves of trial by jury.

Note that it is common practice for district judges who are no longer on the bench to continue to serve as visiting judges as stand ins for other judges. Thus, even though a judge may be removed from the bench for cause it is not unusual for them to continue working as visiting judges. As of 2011 forty-five senior judges, who are retired from the bench, each hear cases approximately 60 days per year in districts where there are vacancies, a backlog of cases, conflicts of interest, etc.

Magistrates

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Magistrates are appointed by and usually serve at the pleasure of the chief judge of the judicial district. Magistrates typically hear arraignments after an arrest, conduct motion hearings, set bonds, and may serve as the probate court judge in some judicial districts.

The number of magistrates in a judicial district varies widely and some have none.

Water courts

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Water court judges hold the position and rank of a district judge and may serve other functions in the district as well. There are seven water courts, one in each of the major river basins in Colorado.

Water courts have exclusive jurisdiction over cases relating to the determination of water rights, use and administration of water, and all other water matters. Water matters are among the most contentious and drawn out issues before Colorado courts.

Colorado Court of Appeals

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Judges on the Court of Appeals are appointed by the governor from three or four candidates put forward by a judicial nominating commission. The appeals court consists of 22 judges who serve eight-year terms. The court sits in three-member divisions to decide cases. The Chief Judge is appointed by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The chief judge assigns judges to the divisions and rotates their assignments.

The Colorado Court of Appeals is usually the first court of appeals for decisions from the district courts, Denver probate court, and Denver juvenile court. The Court of Appeals also reviews decisions of several state administrative agencies. Its determination of an appeal is final unless the Colorado Supreme Court agrees to review the matter, i.e., grants certiorari.

In the past the court of appeals has tended to be simply a rubber stamp for district court decisions, particularly in family matters. However, since about 2009 some of their decisions have been more balanced.

A litigant filing a pro se appeal from a district court decision is not likely to receive much of a hearing. In almost all cases an attorney experienced in filing appeals is a costly essential. For indigent defendants the State Public Defenders office is reported to do an excellent job on appeals for the limited number of cases they can handle.

Colorado Supreme Court

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The Supreme Court is composed of seven justices who serve ten-year terms. The Chief Justice is selected from the membership of the body and serves at the pleasure of a majority of the justices. The Chief Justice also serves as the executive head of the Colorado Judicial System and is the ex-officio chair of the Supreme Court Nominating Commission when the rare vacancy occurs. The Chief Justice appoints the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals and the Chief Judge of each of the state's 22 judicial districts and is vested with the authority to assign judges (active or retired) to perform judicial duties in any judicial district.

The Colorado Supreme Court is the court of last resort in Colorado's state court system. Its decisions are binding on all other Colorado state courts. The court generally hears appeals from the Court of Appeals, although in some instances individuals can petition the Supreme Court directly regarding a lower court's decision.

Colorado's attorneys are licensed and are supposedly, but rarely disciplined by the Supreme Court. In addition, the court oversees the State Court Administrator, Board of Continuing Legal Education, Board of Law Examiners, Commission on Judicial Discipline (a bad joke), and Unauthorized Practice of Law Committee.

United States courts

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A discussion of the courts of the United States is far beyond the scope of this review. Federal courts are established to deal with federal laws passed by the Congress. These laws are enforced by the U.S. Attorney.

Litigants should note that if their case involves local or state law that all remedies within the state must be exhausted before suit can be brought in federal court. All too often the EJF receives queries from citizens who insist they can immediately file a lawsuit in federal court because they feel their rights were violated in a local or state court. While it may be true that their rights were violated, they must first pursue all possible remedies in Colorado courts, a tedious, time-consuming, and expensive process.

So now you have a basic understanding of how courts work what can you do to help your case?

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| EJF Home | Join the EJF | Comments? | Get EJF newsletter | Newsletters |

| DV Home | Abstract | Contents | Authors and Site Map | Tables | Index | Bibliography |

 

| Chapter 7 — Colorado Judges — Citizen's Review |

| Next —Judging Judges by Charles E. Corry, Ph.D. |


 

This site is supported and maintained by the Equal Justice Foundation.

Last modified 10/7/16