The Colorado Commission on Judicial Discipline is charged with monitoring the conduct, under certain ethical principles, of the judiciary of the state courts of Colorado, including judges of County and District courts; judges of the Court of Appeals, and justices of the Supreme Court. The Commission's authority and procedures are derived from Article VI, Section 23(3) of the Colorado Constitution; the Colorado Rules of Judicial Discipline (the “Rules”); and the Canons regarding judicial conduct (the “Canons”) found in the Colorado Code of Judicial Conduct (the “Code”).
The Commission is comprised of ten citizens who serve without compensation other than the reimbursement of expenses incurred in their duties, such as travel expenses to attend meetings. Members include two county court judges and two district court judges who are appointed by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court; two lawyers, appointed by the Governor; and four citizens who are not currently lawyers or judges, also appointed by the Governor. The Commission appoints an Executive Director who manages the Commission's office and oversees the Commission's operations. The Commission sets its meeting schedule as needed to consider complaints and conduct other business, but generally meets bi-monthly.
The Executive Director responds to inquiries from citizens and judges; prepares the Commission's Annual Report; participates in national organizations that focus on judicial discipline; exchanges information on procedural and administrative issues with disciplinary agencies in other states; meets with judges periodically in each of the state's 22 judicial districts regarding the Canons and Rules; and makes presentations regarding judicial misconduct issues at conferences and continuing education programs for judges. Inquiries from citizens focus on the Commission's jurisdiction and the procedures for filing a complaint and are summarized in Frequently Asked Questions.
Complaints filed with the Commission are screened by the Executive Director to determine whether they involve grounds for judicial misconduct. The Rules require that Complaints which are groundless or frivolous or that focus on issues under the jurisdiction of the trial or appellate courts are to be dismissed. Complaints that proceed past the screening process are investigated and evaluated by the Executive Director and members of the Commission. If there are sufficient grounds to initiate disciplinary action, the judge is notified and asked to respond to the allegations.
Grounds for disciplinary action include:
Willful misconduct, including misconduct that, although not related to judicial duties, brings the judicial office into disrepute or is prejudicial to the administration of justice
Willful or persistent failure to perform judicial duties
Intemperance, including extreme or immoderate personal behavior, recurring loss of temper or control, abuse of alcohol or medications, or the use of illegal narcotic or dangerous drugs
A violation of the Canons
A disability that interferes with the performance of judicial duties that is, or is likely to become, of a permanent character.
Upon a finding of judicial misconduct, the Commission may issue a letter of admonition, reprimand, or censure to the judge, which will be directed at correcting or improving the judge's conduct under the Rules and the Canons. The Commission may also require a judge to seek training or counseling, provide periodic docket management reports, or in a situation where a disability appears to be adversely affecting a judge's conduct, the Commission may direct the judge to seek medical evaluation and treatment. Since the Constitution provides that the papers and proceedings of the Commission are confidential, most disciplinary action is taken privately rather than publicly. However, when it deems appropriate, the Commission also may conduct formal proceedings that may lead to a recommendation to the Colorado Supreme Court for the public censure, retirement, or removal of a judge or justice.
It is important to recognize the limitations on the authority of the Commission. Its focus is on the conduct of the judiciary under the Rules and the Canons, rather than on decisions rendered by a court that are alleged to be erroneous – for example, it cannot modify a trial judge's rulings or an opinion of the Court of Appeals. It has no jurisdiction over the conduct of magistrates, court staff, probation officers, prosecutors, defense counsel, private attorneys, law enforcement officials, correctional facilities staff, administrative hearing officers, or the federal judiciary.
Municipal judges are not considered part of the state judiciary; their conduct is monitored by the municipality in which they serve. For example, county court judges in the city and county of Denver also serve as municipal judges.
The discipline of a lawyer serving in a capacity other than as a state judge, i.e. as a magistrate, municipal court judge, or administrative law judge, is under the jurisdiction of the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel. The evaluation of a judge's competence and performance – rather than the examination of misconduct under the Canons and the Rules -- is the responsibility of the Commissions on Judicial Performance, which provide periodic feedback to judges and publish reports to the public during election years.
Examples of complaints that typically survive the screening process include a judge's delay in issuing a decision within a reasonable time after taking a matter under advisement; a pattern of bias or improper courtroom demeanor; inappropriate personal conduct that reflects adversely on the judiciary; communications with only one party in litigation ("ex parte communications"); using court resources for personal business; or participating in partisan political activities. Examples of complaints that are dismissed include disputes about a judge's rulings on motions, findings of fact, conclusions of law, or final judgments, which belong in the appellate courts; and allegations directed at the conduct of a police officer, magistrate, prosecutor, or defense counsel, over whom the Commission has no jurisdiction. The Commission's Annual Reports summarize the types of complaints considered and acted upon by the Commission.
The Complaint Form provides guidance on preparing and filing a complaint. Many complaints use the complaint form as a cover sheet for a letter that is accompanied by relevant court documents. Any format will be considered by the Commission. The Executive Director can make arrangements to accommodate disabled persons who have difficulty filing a written complaint. The Commission is also authorized to initiate disciplinary proceedings on its own motion.
The Commission reviews its practices and procedures periodically.
Articles and Other Information.
Judge's Corner - The New Commission on Judicial Discipline by Hon. Roxanne Bailin; November 2009
Judge's Corner - The Other Side of the Bench: Reflections on Ten Years in Family Court by Hon. Angela R. Arkin; July 2010
Current Members of the Commission and Staff
Hon. Martha Minot, Chair – County Court Judge
Kathleen Kelley, Secretary – Citizen
Yolanda Lyons – Citizen
Richard Campbell – Attorney
Hon. Leroy Kirby – County Judge
Hon. Ted C. Tow III – District Judge
Hon. William D. Robbins – District Judge
Bruce A. Casias – Citizen
Elizabeth Espinosa Krupa – Attorney
Drucilla Pugh – Citizen
William J. Campbell, Executive Director
Lauren Eisenbach, Administrative Assistant