Voters reject Thompson's bid for re-election


— A new judge will replace 14th District Judge Joel Thompson next year.

Voters in Routt, Moffat and Grand counties rejected Thompson's bid for re-election Tuesday, a few months after an independent commission charged with evaluating Thompson's performance recommended voters not return him to office.

Final tallies from the three counties showed 7,533 voters, or 53 percent, did not want Thompson retained. Thompson received 6,788 votes in favor of retention.

Grand County voters broke from voters in Routt and Moffat counties in supporting Thompson's return to the bench.

About 57 percent of voters in Grand County supported his retention in comparison to 44 percent of Routt County voters and 43 percent in Moffat County.

Thompson was one of two judges in the state who was not recommended for retention in the 2002 independent evaluation of 104 trial and appellate judges and justices seeking reelection in the Nov. 5 general election.

The 14th Judicial District Commission on Judicial Performance, which voted 6 to 3 for Thompson's nonretention earlier this fall, cited concerns about courtesy and the effect of personal relationships on his judicial performance.

Arapahoe County Judge Stephen R. Ruddick is the other judge in Colorado who was not recommended for retention.

But an unfavorable recommendation does not necessarily mean a judge or justice will not remain on the bench after an election.

Arapahoe County voters approved Ruddick's re-election bid by a two-to-one margin Tuesday.

Between 1990 and 2000, 12 justices in the state received a recommendation for nonretention. Voters returned eight of those 12 justices to office.

Thompson becomes the fifth judge who failed to stay in office after a judicial performance commission recommended his defeat at the polls.

Michelle Stermer, director of the Colorado Judicial Performance Program, said that while voters have not always followed commissions' recommendations, the margin that judges win by reflects voters' deference to judicial evaluations.

"The public is definitely looking at them," Stermer said.

Ruddick was retained by fewer votes than judges who received high marks on their evaluations, she said.

Routt County Judge James Garrecht, who received high marks in almost every category of the survey, was returned to office by 82 percent of Routt County voters.

While Thompson can serve as district judge until Jan. 14, he could choose to step down earlier, said Susan Sestag, chief deputy clerk with the Office of the State Court Administrator.

The 14th Judicial District Nominating Commission can begin considering Thompson's replacement when county election results are certified by the Colorado Secretary of State's Office.

Gov. Bill Owens then has 15 days to appoint one of the commission's nominees as judge.

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