Bringing the Gavel Down on Judges
by Craig Eley
The Colorado Supreme Court has announced that, beginning in 2010, judges will not be allowed to serve more than 14 years on the Bench.
The announcement, which was in the form of a Chief Justice Directive dated April 1, 2008, applies to judges of county courts, district courts, the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court.
The edict was met with disbelief by the state’s various bar associations, because they had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to defeat a judicial term limits ballot initiative in 2006. Jo King, a Court spokesperson, pointed out that political considerations made it necessary for the court to re-evaluate judicial term limits at this time.
The problem, according to King, is that John Andrews, who sponsored the 2006 initiative, just will not go away. Although his 2006 scheme was soundly defeated at the polls, he is trying to put a similar measure on the 2008 ballot. This time, the proposal would apply to all state and county judges (the 2006 initiative only applied to appellate judges), and would limit terms to 12 years on each court.
At a news conference, King was asked why the court was worried about the 2008 term limits effort, when the 2006 measure was received so poorly by voters. "What really clinched it for the Court was the term limits debate article in the February 2008 issue of The Colorado Lawyer," she replied. "In his arguments for judicial term limits, Andrews quoted from Robert Burns, Oliver Cromwell, and George Bernard Shaw. He even cribbed a line from Pete Smythe, for heaven’s sake. There’s no way we would be able to beat back another Andrews assault when he’s using tactics like that!"
A review of the article1 gives some credence to the Court’s concerns. Andrews is apparently hoping that the down home approach will this time bring success. He even stooped so low as to refer to those he quoted as "them fellers." (Is it too late to hire Baxter Black for rebuttal?)
King was asked why the Court thought that an "aw shucks" style campaign would be more effective for Andrews than it had been for U.S. Senate hopeful Pete Coors (who was shown in commercials wearing blue jeans with holes in them) or Colorado Governor candidate Bob Beauprez (who rhapsodized about the smell of cow manure), both of whom were unsuccessful. Would voters flock to a revenge initiative, regardless of how down-home it is presented?
King, a media-savvy public relations veteran, reminded those at the press conference that dumbing-down a message sometimes works. She used the example of former Louisiana Governor (and now federal corrections inmate #03128-095) Edwin Edwards who, despite allegations of corruption, used his country charm to jolly the voters into sending him to the Governor’s office a record four times (semi-endearing quote: "The only way I can lose this election is if I’m caught in bed with either a dead girl or a live boy.").
The Court felt, King explained, that by enacting a 14-year limitation it would defuse Andrew’s latest 12-year proposal, while at the same time squeezing out another two years of PERA contributions for judges. This, King ventured, was a truly Solomonesque strategy.
"It’s more like throwing the baby out with the bathwater," countered Bessie Mae Mutchoe, immediate past president of the Southeast Colorado Consolidated Bar Associations. She pointed out that, after denying the revenge motive for his proposal, Andrews argues that there are a number of activist judges, and the only way to get rid of them is to throw all judges out of office after 12 years. That’s the only cure, according to Andrews, for the "black robe syndrome."2
"That is just so ridiculous," Mutchoe continued, "because we would lose all of our experienced judges merely so a few allegedly bad ones would get culled." Mutchoe was recently involved in a televised debate with Andrews on the subject, and the following colloquy occurred:
Mutchoe: Using your logic, Mr. Andrews, we should limit doctors to practicing for 12 years, because some of them commit malpractice and hurt or kill people. Some accountants mess up income tax returns. Some beauticians botch hair dying. Some architect-designed buildings crumble. Would you limit all professional licenses to 12 years just because a small number of them screw up?
Andrews: Hmm, not a bad idea. Maybe next year.3
1. 37 The Colorado Lawyer, 43 (Feb. 2008).
2. 37 The Colorado Lawyer, 46 (Feb. 2008).
3. Transcript, "What Are They Smoking?" Channel 97, Sugar City, Colorado (Dec. 9, 2007).
Craig Eley is a volunteer member of The Docket Committee and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.