District judge reviews are in

Thompson receives 'do not retain' recommendation


— The district judge in the 14th Judicial District was one of two judges in the state to receive a "do not retain" recommendation in an independent evaluation of 104 trial and appellate judges and justices seeking retention in the Nov. 5 general election.

The evaluation for District Judge Joel S. Thompson cites concerns about courtesy and the effect of personal relationships on his judicial performance.

The results of a local 10-member commission's assessment of Thompson's judicial performance, as well as that of Routt County Judge James H. Garrecht and Moffat County Judge Mary Lynne James, were posted online Monday.

Arapahoe County Judge Stephen R. Ruddick received the other "do not retain" recommendation from the 18th Judicial District's Performance Commission.

Twenty-three volunteer commissions, comprised of four attorneys and six non-attorneys, made "retain" or "do not retain" recommendations for each judge seeking retention in Colorado's county and district courts, Appeals Court and Supreme Court.

While voters must still decide if judges seeking retention should be returned to office, the evaluations provide them with useful information that might aid them in their decision.

Between 1990 and 2000, 12 justices have received a "do not retain" recommendation, said Michelle Stermer, director of the Colorado Judicial Performance Program.

Four of those 12 justices have not been returned to office, she said.

That means a "do not retain" recommendation does not necessarily mean a judge or justice will not remain on the bench after Nov. 5, Stermer added.

The 14th Judicial District's Performance Commission voted 6 to 3 that Thompson not be retained.

The commission based its decision on 157 completed responses to 404 surveys mailed to people in contact with Thompson, including attorneys, victims, law enforcement officers, court personnel, jurors, litigants, social workers and probation officers.

The response rate was similar to questionnaires regarding the judicial performance of Garrecht and James.

Thompson and Garrecht were in court and could not return a call for comment.

James could not be reached.

Survey results revealed 75 percent of attorneys and 65 percent of non-attorneys supported Thompson's retention.

Respondents favorably noted his knowledge of the law, docket management, punctuality and well-reasoned decisions.

He received low marks on survey questions that addressed his consideration for parties, attorneys and witnesses.

In an interview with the commission, Thompson said he was not knowingly impolite, although he would not tolerate attorneys whose actions or work was out of line with court procedures or his orders.

He also asserted his personal integrity before the commission, in response to survey comments that questioned his standard of conduct in light of publicity raised about his private life during the Thomas Lee Johnson trial.

The commission noted in its evaluation of Garrecht that 100 percent of attorneys and 77 percent of non-attorneys surveyed supported the Routt County judge's retention.

Garrecht, who received a "do retain" recommendation in an 8 to 1 decision by the commission, received high marks in almost every category of the survey.

Commissions weigh such criteria as integrity, fairness, attentiveness, knowledge of the law, communication skills, docket management, preparation, punctuality and effectiveness in working with participants in the judicial process.

The commission voted 6 to 4 that James be retained. Survey respondents, however, raised concerns about her judicial temperament, preparation and timeliness when ruling on motions.

James' commitment to public service was favorably noted by the commission.

Judges seeking retention in the Nov. 5 election were not blindsided by the evaluations, commission member John Ponikvar said.

"They knew it was coming," he said. "This was not a surprise to them."

The commission presented judges in the 14th Judicial District with their preliminary evaluations in late May.

Judges then had an opportunity to go over the evaluation and offer some rebuttal.

"They (the judges) can comment and talk to us about what they feel is inaccurate or unfair," Ponikvar said. "We have the option of changing the narrative or leaving it as it is."

The Colorado General Assembly created Commissions on Judicial Performance in 1988 to offer voters objective and practical evaluations of trail and appellate judges seeking retention in general elections.

The governor, President of the Senate, Speaker of the House and Chief Justice appoint state and local commission members.


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