Fare thee well, Judge Marquez

Judge Jose D.L. Marquez of the Colorado Court of Appeals announced last week that he’s retiring effective April 1 after nearly twenty years on that court. Judge Marquez served as a district court judge from 1984 to 1988 prior to receiving his current appointment.

The Colorado Supreme Court Nominating Commission now begins its work. The Commission is made up of fifteen voting members, one lawyer and one non-lawyer from each of Colorado’s seven congressional districts plus one additional non-lawyer. The Commission receives applications, interviews candidates and submits three nominees to the governor, who must appoint a new judge from among those nominees within fifteen days of receiving the list. If the governor fails to choose within the required time, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court makes the selection.

Once appointed, a court of appeals judge serves an initial term of two years. At that point the judge “stands for retention” during a general election. The judge doesn’t run against anyone; voters simply answer yes or no to a question along the lines of “Shall Judge # be retained?” Assuming a court of appeals judge is retained — and they always are — s/he must stand for retention again every eight years.

The obvious intent of the selection process, in place since 1967, was to depoliticize the state judiciary. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

Back in 2006, Judge Marquez found himself a target of lunatic fringe Republican and former state senator John Andrews. Proposed Amendment 40, which would have imposed term limits on Colorado Court of Appeals and Colorado Supreme Court judges, was Andrews’ baby and he was determined to see that it passed. Judge Marquez, who was up for retention in the same election, was Andrews’ shining example of why term limits were needed. Andrews even went so far as to call Judge Marquez the poster boy for term limits.”

Asked about the erroneous rulings that prompted such a horrifically over-the-top comment, all Andrews could come up with was Trinen v. City & County of Denver (doc, 20 pages), a 2-1 decision in which the court of appeals upheld a Denver ordinance that prohibited carrying an unconcealed firearm on one’s person and carrying a concealed firearm in one’s car against a challenge brought under the keep-and-bear-arms provision of the state constitution. Judge Marquez, Andrews sputtered, ruled that there’s no fundamental constitutional right to keep and bear arms. OMFG TEH HORER!!1!!!

Of course, Andrews neglected to mention that (1) Judge Marquez didn’t even write the opinion in that case, and (2) the state Supreme Court ruled in a previous case that the right to keep and bear arms set forth in the state constitution was in fact NOT fundamental and thus subject to reasonable legislative restrictions. In essence, Andrews’ complaint was that Judge Marquez refused to ignore binding precedent issued by a higher court.

But it got even worse. Judges up for retention get evaluated by an outfit called the State Commission on Judicial Performance. The ten-member commission surveys other judges as well as litigants and lawyers who have appeared before the judge in question. The survey results, along with the commission’s recommendation, are made available to the public before the retention election.

Bill Banta, a long-time friend and ideological butt buddy of Mr. Andrews, was on judicial performance commission. Ninety-nine percent of judges and ninety-two percent of lawyers surveyed recommended that Judge Marquez be retained. However, Banta stirred up enough shit among Republicans on the commission that the commissioners’ vote to recommend retention was an uncomfortably narrow 6-4. The ham-fisted political shenanigans prompted another commission member, former Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Dubofsky, to take the unprecedented step of complaining to the press.

The house crazies’ efforts went for naught, thankfully enough. The voters retained Judge Marquez overwhelmingly and took a massive, steaming dump all over Amendment 40. Throughout it all Judge Marquez kept his dignity and professional demeanor intact.

Here’s wishing Judge Marquez a long, healthy, happy retirement.

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