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Out with the 'Old and Corrupt' and in with the 'New': Voting out Judges

A while back I wrote a short piece titled, Judges and Election: Politics, Voting, and Controversy. Since then, the two Larimer County judges who helped prosecute Tim Masters, an innocent man, were decidedly held retainable for this November's election, a judicial retention commission unanimously recommended early this August. Despite censure, the commission stated in both cases that Terry Gilmore and Jolene Blair had "outstanding performance" as judges, although it was more or less silent as to their roles in the Masters' prosecution. On the one hand the commission "acknowledged the relevance of the judges' censure - but nevertheless [on the other hand] said the judges were worthy of retention." Perhaps I am one of the few local attorneys in the District who is not afraid to publicly speak out against this, and so I will. After all, this blog concerns rants, not just raves. The following is definitively the former as opposed to the latter.

With the upcoming November election, and all the hoopla in the congressional race, I doubt little that the voting public will be seeing and hearing large scale ads why they should vote one way or another when it comes to not just Blair and Gilmore but all the judges up for retention. At least there is one voice, that of Sandy Lemberg, a spokesman for Judicial Justice of Larimer County, a group campaigning against the retention of Blair and Gilmore, who evidently was not surprised at the commission's decision. "The whole process is flawed," he told local media, moreover stating that "the committee's recommendation does not account for the public's dissenting opinion. He also took issue with the presence of Dana Hiatt on the committee. Hiatt is the wife of former Chief District Judge James Hiatt, who retired from the bench in 2009 and supervised Blair and Gilmore for eight years. Lemberg also said he is thankful voters have the final say and recommended the public ignore the commission's recommendations." Kudos ought to go out to Lemberg, mine do.

Since when do judges sit above the law? Some argue that Blair and Gilmore should have been disbarred for participating in the concealment of exculpatory evidence that could have set Timothy Masters free, and have led to the capture of the real murderer! Maybe others experience a different attitude toward the courts, especially when justice goes their way, but for many I hear from, good people especially, they tell me all about how they feel the justice system is "corrupt." Supposing judges can rule with impunity raises the untold and unexamined issues that belie the highly regarded and almost sacrosanct Offices of the Judiciary. This author has seen few if any judges go down in infamy following an adjudication for wrongdoings on par with those related to the Masters' case. Were not these judges Officers of the Court when they were prosecutors as much as they are now even more eminent ones as judges?

So, where lies the "court of public opinion" and the body politic? This has puzzled political scientists for years when it comes to apathy and political efficacy in the context of voting. Either people truly believe their votes do not matter in the end or they do not vote at all out of pure indifference. When it comes to voting for judges, it may well be that voters assume they deserve a vote simply because they wear black robes and bang gavels. Yet, it could also be that voters do not contemplate how judges' decision making affects the community and public policy. Even when they do, the sentiment may be that judges are not really political enough to vote out and "if the system is not broken, why fix it?" Finally, voters could out of lack of information or knowledge assume they ought to vote in judges as opposed to vote out judges because they see no reason to "fire" them.

The fact of the matter is this: judges and politicians are public servants - this is without question. Therefore they are here to serve and protect the people. But, the difference between them and government employees and/or "civil servants" is they face election. While the all too debated "term limits" issue comes up time and again, we forget that as voters we can limit terms, that is, should we choose to go to the ballot box during election-time in November. There is value to the old adage, "Out with the old, and in with the new." Or, as I say, "Out with the old and corrupt and in with the new."

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