Do You Know About Our Courts?
by Elsa Martinez Tenreiro
The Colorado and Denver legal community has come together again to fill a tremendous gap in the general public’s understanding of our judicial system. In the summer of 2006, Judge Russell Carparelli, Colorado Court of Appeals, and Judge Marcia Krieger, U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, discovered they shared a common desire to increase public understanding and knowledge of the state and federal courts in Colorado. Their enthusiasm and drive — together with that of Ellie Greenberg of the Colorado Judicial Institute, and total support from Gale Miller, chair of CJI; Liz Starrs, CBA past-president; and David Lytle, CBA president — culminated into the creation of the Our Courts program.
Our Courts is a joint activity of the Colorado Judicial Institute and the Colorado Bar Association that provides nonpartisan information programs to audiences around the state to further public knowledge and understanding of the state and federal courts in Colorado. It has partnered with the Colorado Community College System, Colorado County Judges Association, Colorado District Judges Association, Colorado State Library, Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System, League of Women Voters of Colorado, National Center for State Courts, University of Colorado at Denver School of Public Affairs, University of Colorado Law School, and University of Denver Sturm College of Law.
Our Courts is run with the support of the Colorado Bar Association, and schedules presentations to give audiences information and resources about the state and federal courts. If you know of any organization, whether corporate or community-based, that holds regular meetings and may be interested in a presentation, consider recommending the Our Courts program. Think about leadership organizations; business, professional and trade associations; service organizations such as a Rotary, Kiwanis or Lions Club; and affinity associations such as women’s and seniors’ groups. Presentations can be scheduled on any mutually agreeable date. You also could use a commemoration such as Law Day, the fourth of July, or Colorado History Day as an opportunity to host a presentation.
Our Courts has judges and lawyers throughout the state available to give interactive presentations on our state courts and, by April 1, also will have presentations available on our federal court and the Rule of Law. The state court presentation includes information about the selection, discipline and evaluation of state judges, as well as guidance as to how to get information about and volunteer for the state judicial selection, discipline and performance evaluation commissions.
Colorado has a 41-year history of selecting judges based on merit. A constitutional amendment enacted this merit selection system in 1966. Since then, 22 different nominating commissions throughout Colorado work hard to review the applications, qualifications and reputations of the judicial applicants in the legal profession and the larger community in selecting nominees for judicial office. Colorado is reported to have a system that produces some of the nation’s fairest courts and judges, according to a 2006 U.S. Chamber of Commerce survey.
A crucial underpinning of Colorado’s reputation for a fair and accountable judiciary rests not only with its selection process, but also with its support for a credible performance evaluation system. In fact, many states consider Colorado to be the "gold standard" for judicial performance evaluation standards in the United States.
National and statewide surveys consistently show that the public has generally a positive — if somewhat vague — opinion of their courts and judges, and that the more they know about the judiciary, the more confident they are in the institution. However, many of these same surveys also show that our citizens lack even baseline knowledge about the fundamental workings of the courts, including those processes that have been built into the system to ensure greater transparency and accountability. Our courts have the power and the responsibility to decide whether we can keep our children, our homes, our jobs — even our freedom. Given this, public trust and confidence in its judges and courts is vital.
In July 2007, a telephone survey of 726 registered Colorado voters was conducted on behalf of the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System and the League of Women Voters of Colorado Education Fund to better understand voter knowledge and opinions of Colorado’s judiciary in a range of areas (visit http://www.du.edu/legalinstitute for a copy of the Institute’s survey executive summary). Respondents were asked to describe their general perception of Colorado’s courts and judges, as well as specific questions related to the process by which judges are selected and evaluated in the state.
The survey found that people who have contact with the courts are more likely to believe that judges are fair. Almost half of respondents (49 percent) said that they or a family member had been in a courtroom within the past five years. Some of the major reasons for being in court were to serve as a jury member, in a family court matter, a criminal matter, or as a party in a lawsuit. A large majority (88 percent) of those with court experience said the judge was fair in their case.
It is in Colorado’s very best interests to learn more about our current judicial system. I would encourage every Docket subscriber to consider those groups you associate with, within the legal profession as well as outside the profession, and encourage them to invite Our Courts to make a presentation on our judicial system.
If you are interested in more information, contact Carolyn Gravit at (303) 860-1115 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit http://www.ourcourtscolorado.org.