CRAWAL ON THE COURT | Pleading week at the Supreme Court, coaching for various lawyers | Law courts
Welcome to Court Crawl, Colorado Politics’ third branch of government news roundup. The state Supreme Court held its monthly closing arguments last week despite an illness on the bench, and a new coaching program for Colorado judicial aspirants recently concluded its pilot phase.
Back together, but not in person
• The Colorado Supreme Court justices held closing arguments last week and a couple of things were noteworthy. Firstly, unlike previous months when two or – at most – three cases were ready to go, the May schedule had five arguments, a number more in line with the High Court’s historic caseload. Second, the judges were scheduled to travel to Grand Junction for the biannual Community Courts program, but at the last minute the trip was canceled and the arguments were moved online.
• A spokesperson for the legal department said “COVID exposure” was the reason for the change. It seems like Chief Justice Brian D. Boatright was the affected party. The Court Crawl sends its condolences.
• In terms of the cases themselves, the topics were quite varied: whether to roll back part of the voter-approved paid vacation program because it violates the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, what it means to intending to “harm” a police officer by spitting on him, how parole eligibility should be calculated, and whether vehicle taillights should be exclusively red.
• On that last question, Colorado law only says drivers must have a “slightly conspicuous red” 500 feet to the rear. What is disputed is whether this means that a rear light only has to be red with no other colors, or whether there can be other colors as long as the red is clearly visible. Although the only scenario at play is really whether someone can use paperwork as a temporary fix for their broken taillight, the judges were somewhat concerned about the implications of deciding too broad or too narrow.
• John T. Lee of the Attorney General’s Office, in arguing for red and only red, used the following example: “Let’s say I pay someone $25,000 to paint my house gray. I’m leaving. I’m coming back expecting I want my house to be gray. is white. The side is white. I get to my front door and there is a light gray painted stripe with the note: ‘You didn’t say all gray.’ “
The dream job
• Colorado’s judicial branch has made diversifying the bench a priority, and this past winter it tried something new: a six-month coaching program that pairs current judges with various attorneys who commit to applying. and to be appointed as judges. Colorado Politics followed two of the contenders and their coaches during the pilot program as they applied for the open positions. Here’s an excerpt from this week’s coverage:
With the exception of Denver County Court, the path to a judgeship in any county court, district court, appeals court, and supreme court is the same statewide. A citizen-led commission reviews the nominations, finds two or three finalists, and sends them to the governor for a final decision. Once appointed, voters decide whether or not to retain judges for varying terms.
After becoming a magistrate, Phelicia Kossie-Tonje successfully shortlisted three times for positions at Arapahoe County Courthouse, Douglas County Courthouse, and Adams County Courthouse. In each case, after failing to secure the nomination, he was told that the successful candidates had stronger ties to the jurisdiction or were a better fit.
Kossie-Tonje interpreted “best fit” to mean political ties.
“The only good thing I’ve heard from the governor’s staff is that my maintenance skills have improved. There’s no deficit,” she said. They would have told him: “Keep on doing the work”.
“It’s always positive. They don’t always tell people to keep trying. They say thank you, and that’s the end of the call,” she said.
After the third rejection, Kossie-Tonje stepped back to consider her applications, all in courts in different counties.
“Is that the message you want to send?” she wondered. “Or do you mean you’re actually dedicated to a place? Because every nominating committee wants to know that you want to improve that jurisdiction. So if you flirt with other jurisdictions, it shows you’re not as devoted. “
Roe vs. Wade
• Obviously, the big court news of the past week was the leak of the draft opinion of the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the case that could — and, apparently, will — undo longstanding constitutional protections for abortion. While Colorado isn’t as affected as some other states, here are some of the local reactions to the leaked opinion (first reported by POLITICO):
Lines drawn as leaked draft to take down Roe sparks outrage and cheers from Colorado politicians
Decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade could rock Colorado’s November election, strategists say
A Brief History of Colorado Abortion Activism 1891–Present
• An Eagle County detective kept questioning a man suspected of child sexual abuse, even though he had invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. The state appeals court ordered a new trial and the statements were expunged.
• The United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, in a 2-1 decision, took the unusual step of overturning a judge’s injunction against the city and county of Denver based on a an argument that Denver itself never used in its own defense. Judge Veronica S. Rossmanthe newest member of the court, described in dissent how problematic she found this maneuver.
Vacancies and Appointments
• The U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary is holding a nominations hearing this Wednesday, and the Court Crawl is advised that Nina Y. Wangthe president’s nominee for a federal judgeship in Colorado, may be among the candidates senators hear about.
• Nominations must be filed by May 27 to succeed the district court Judges Ramsey L. Lama and Stephen A. Groome in the 11th Judicial District (Chaffee, Custer, Fremont and Park counties).
• The governor appointed John W. Stengerwho works on juvenile cases, in Rio Grande County Court, succeeding Judge Barbara A. Zollars.
• A federal judge declined to dismiss a voter intimidation lawsuit against a Colorado group and instead set a hearing for a preliminary injunction.
• A 1790 Crimes on the High Seas Act won’t help a man accused of murdering his wife on foreign soil get his trial transferred, a federal judge has said.
• Medical experts told a grand jury that administering ketamine to Elijah McClain was responsible for his death in 2019, according to documents an Adams County judge tried to block The Denver Gazette from reporting.
• A bill to revamp the state’s Judicial Disciplinary Commission is still being amended in the final days of the legislative session.