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Colorado Facing Record Number Of Judicial Vacancies

A record number of Colorado judges have either resigned from their jobs as a state judicial evaluation agency began reviewing them, or have been recommended by the agency to lose their seats on the bench during the upcoming election.

A total of six judges are either gone or recommended to leave, according to the Denver Post. And with mandatory retirements looming for others, the paper reported that at least 14 of Colorado’s 160 judicial seats will be vacant by January.

“I think this is the largest number we’ve had at one time,” Kent Wagner, the director of the Colorado Office of Judicial Performance Evaluation, told the Post.

Prior to each election, the State Commission on Judicial Performance evaluates judges up for retention by questioning lawyers, plaintiffs and defendants and then interviewing the judges themselves.

The commission’s recommendations on whether to retain judges or not is passed on to voters in the so-called “Blue Book,” a nonpartisan voters’ guide to candidates and issues prepared by the state.

Judges aren’t directly elected in Colorado, but voters can decide whether they stay or go on a rotating basis during elections.

Two judges chose to resign while their evaluations were underway, the Post reported, citing no specific reason for stepping down.

Four others were given a thumbs-down by the commission. All but one was a first-time jurist.

The more experienced judge, Grand County judge Ben McClelland, has been on the bench since 2007. During previous evaluations, he’d been recommended for retention, but this year, the state commission thinks voters should give him the boot.

The evaluation said some respondents thought McClelland was “arrogant, defensive, impatient, and lacking appropriate judicial demeanor.”

“It was commented that Judge McClelland has a tendency, or at least the appearance, to rule based on his personal bias or opinion,” the evaluation continued. “These characteristics do not meet required judicial criteria of communication and judicial temperament.”

McClelland defended himself in a written response to the evaluation.

“The Appeals Courts have upheld all of my trial court rulings,” he wrote, according to Sky-Hi Daily News in Grand County. “I’m strict in the application of the law. Comparing my local survey results to survey results in other counties is akin to comparing apples to oranges.”

Since 1990, the commission has only recommended that 17 judges not be retained. Voters have gone along with recommendations not to retain only about 35 percent of the time. Comparatively, when the commission recommends retention, voters agree 99.7 percent of the time.

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