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All 135 judges who are seeking retention in Colorado’s November general election have met the standards for judicial performance, according to the findings of citizen-led commissions across the state.

On Tuesday, the Office of Judicial Performance Evaluation released the reports and recommendations from judicial performance commissions operating in each of Colorado's 22 judicial districts, plus one panel that evaluates state Supreme Court and Court of Appeals members. The commissions analyzed judges using such factors as their demeanor, managing the flow of cases on their dockets, and knowledge of the law — incorporating lawyers' and non-lawyers' ratings of judges into their recommendations.

Of the 135 judges who sought to be retained by voters this year, the commissions concluded they all met the required standard of performance.

However, the results of Colorado's retention process do not provide the complete picture of judicial performance. A total of 164 judges were eligible for retention in 2022, but only 140 received evaluations and 135 chose to remain on the ballot. Judges may opt to resign or retire prior to their retention for multiple reasons, including the expectation of a negative performance evaluation.

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The retention process is one of the means of holding Colorado's judiciary publicly accountable, in addition to the appellate review of judges' decisions and investigations into alleged misconduct by the state's judicial discipline commission. Once the governor appoints a judge, he or she will face a retention vote after approximately two years. If successful, the judge will serve for a term of four to 10 years, depending on the type of judicial appointment.

This election cycle marks the first time the appointees of Gov. Jared Polis will appear on the ballot, including five Polis-appointed members of the Court of Appeals. None of the state's seven Supreme Court justices is up for retention this year.

Although the vast majority of judges received unanimous favorable recommendations from the performance commissions, 14 judges received split votes to varying degrees. Eight women and six men had one or more commission members cast a vote against retention, with one judge registering a tie vote in her commission.

District Court Judge Kimberly B. Schutt of Weld County received mixed reviews from her commission, with four members finding she met performance standards and four believing she did not. Schutt, who handles emotionally-charged divorce and parental rights cases, received higher-than-average marks from attorneys and non-attorneys who provided their feedback. She also exceeded the averages for her case management skills, knowledge of law, demeanor, fairness and communication.

Commission members' only specific area of concern about Schutt was the length of time she takes to issue rulings.

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"The Commission takes seriously that Judge Schutt’s caseload has been reduced due to this issue and feels strongly that she should be handling an even share of cases with all due speed," the performance commission wrote in its narrative to voters. "Despite her high ratings and performance in almost all other areas, the deficiency in timely case management cannot be ignored and is something that demands Judge Schutt’s prompt attention if she is to be a successful District Court Judge."

Because a majority of commissioners must vote to label a judge as not meeting performance standards, the tie vote resulted in a favorable recommendation for Schutt. This is her first time standing for retention.

Six other judges garnered at least two negative votes from their commissions. The most narrowly-divided evaluations involved Kiowa County Court Judge Gary W. Davis, Rio Blanco County Court Judge Joe Fennessy and La Plata County Court Judge Anne Kathryn Woods — all of whom received 6-3 or 5-2 votes deeming they met performance standards.

Davis, who has been a part-time county judge since 1992, scored well on his demeanor and for helping self-represented litigants navigate the legal process. However, the performance commission raised concerns with Davis' docket management and his inconsistent application of the law. Docket management was also an issue the commission previously warned about in Davis' 2018 evaluation.

Fennessy's commission decided he was respectful, prepared and committed to serving the public. His evaluation noted he came out of retirement to serve on the bench and will reach the mandatory retirement age within the next year. Nevertheless, some members believed his communication skills, legal knowledge and administration were deficient. Notably, the commission received feedback that prosecutors appeared to be "directing the docket," as Fennessy would otherwise become confused.

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"A related concern articulated was Judge Fennessy often seems not to have mastery over the law applicable to various routine criminal-court proceedings," the commission warned. "Because of these concerns, both sides expressed reluctance to take cases to trial, indicating that they are so afraid of judicial error, they enter settlements in his court that they otherwise might not."

For Woods, who was appointed in late 2020, her commission applauded her efforts to improve her handling of cases during her two years on the bench. It still cautioned of a perception that Woods, a former public defender, was too lenient toward defendants.

"The public still may be partially anchored on the view that Judge Woods is a pro-defense judge, but the Commission noted a significant increase in cash bail and sentences above the minimum" since her preliminary 2021 evaluation, the commission wrote.

Finally, the judicial performance commission for Larimer County decided by 7-3 that County Court Judge Thomas L. Lynch met performance standards. Calling him respectful, patient and kind, the commission nonetheless warned about his docket management. It also noted concerns about Lynch's demeanor "outside the courtroom, which has been described as inflexible." Lynch's 2018 evaluation also took issue with delays to his docket.

Editor's note: This article has been updated to correct the vote count for the evaluations of three county court judges.

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