On May 20, 2022, Governor Jared Polis signed into law Senate Bill 22-201, on Colorado's system for disciplining state court judges. The bill was introduced in the Colorado General Assembly during the 2022 session, after recent news media reports on allegations of judicial misconduct. It passed the legislature with bipartisan support.
CJI's Involvement in the Legislative Process
CJI actively participated in the legislative process for SB 22-201. CJI submitted written statements to legislators and provided oral testimony at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on April 21, 2022 and House Judiciary Committee hearing on May 3, 2022.
CJI's participation was driven by its mission. CJI is committed to protecting and defending the ability of the Colorado judiciary to decide cases fairly and impartially and free from partisan politics. CJI strives to engender the public’s trust that the judicial system will provide litigants their day in court with dignity and respect, and to preserve and protect our merit system for selecting, evaluating, retaining, and disciplining judges.
CJI's Input on the Proposed Legislation
CJI's comments on the legislation included the following:
Timing of changes to judicial discipline system
CJI supports the full, fair, and thorough investigation of recent judicial misconduct allegations, consistently with the American justice system of due process. CJI also supports fully-informed decisions about potential improvements to our merit judicial system, once the facts are in from the investigative process, expected to conclude in the coming months. In the meantime, while no system is perfect, Colorado's system – adopted by voters in 1966, when they rejected partisan judicial elections – is widely admired and has served the public well.
The initial bill draft included very broad, ambiguous complaint disclosure requirements by the state judicial department that could have chilled reporting and resolution of potential misconduct, contrary to the intent of the legislation. (Those provisions were amended during the legislative process.)
Interim committee process
The bill includes an interim legislative committee process to consider, before the 2023 legislative session, further potential changes to the judicial discipline system. CJI supports a robust interim committee process including relevant stakeholders with knowledge of the judicial system. (The interim committee provision was broadened during the legislative process to include input from stakeholders such as CJI.)
Summary of the Legislation as Enacted
The legislation as signed into law includes provisions on the following:
- a statutory framework for the judicial disciplinary process, fleshing out provisions in the Colorado constitution;
- independent funding of the judicial discipline commission;
- information sharing with the commission by the judicial department, and sharing of information between the commission and other entities involved with the judiciary, such as nominating and performance evaluation commissions;
- rulemaking on judicial discipline procedures;
- reporting to the legislature on judicial discipline data, including the demographics of judges under discipline or investigation and of those affected by potential misconduct; and
- a legislative interim committee to consider further potential changes to the judicial disciplinary system, seeking input from the commission, current and former judges and justices, bar associations and legal societies, attorneys, independent experts on judicial discipline systems, and other Colorado residents.
CJI looks forward to continued participation in the process of determining whether our merit judicial system, a model for those of other states, can be further improved.