Brainstorming after the last election, where the people of Larimer County unseated two judges up for retention, and having been very active in that campaign, I pondered the reasons why we had the Timothy Masters problem, and what we, as the electorate, could do about it.
That lead to some ideas for ballot initiatives in the coming future related to judicial administration and tenure.
Create a ballot initiative wherein a district attorney, assistant district attorney, or public defender is not eligible to be selected as a candidate for the bench in the same jurisdiction where they practiced as a district attorney, assistant district attorney, or public defender.
The idea here is to prevent bias, conscious or unconscious from being introduced to the bench. The bench doesn't become a machine of logic just because it sits there. Having worked in a given office for years, will not the arguments of your ex-co-workers sound more reasonable? Will one be swayed unconsciously? Will one be overly aggressive with the evidence to insure a politically motivated conviction to forward a judicial career? If one can't be on the bench in the same jurisdiction where one pleaded, then most of that becomes moot, doesn't it?
Create a ballot initiative wherein members of the Commission for Judicial Retention cannot be related to judges or ex-judges in the district by marriage or consanguinity, cannot be ex-employees of the judicial district, and that the quota of non-attorney members of the commission must be changed to bar non-practicing attorneys from filling the positions that should be filled by civilians.
This is to prevent the packed Commission for Judicial Retention that was seen prior to the election in November, 2010. This idea of appointing wives of ex-judges of the district just won't fly if the electorate gets wind of it, and henceforth we need to pay attention to the content of the Commission.
Create a ballot initiative that mandates the regular collection and release of judge ruling statistics, to allow voters to monitor the performance of their judges as they are able to do with their politicians.
The electorate can always examine the voting record of a politician to determine if that politician is exercising the mandate of the voter, and thereby whether they are worthy of retention. As can be shown from the membership of the Commission for Judicial Retention, it is not always a good idea to rely on the recommendation of such bodies, when they can have a biased and/or corrupted opinion. Hence this idea, whereby the voter can examine a judges ruling record. How often do they rule for the prosecution? Does a given judge predominantly rule for or against certain classes of plaintiffs/defendants. Is there preferential treatment given to government plaintiffs or defendants? Without ruling statistics, we can't even begin to decide for ourselves.
Create a ballot initiative to limit judicial and governmental immunity and decrease taxpayer liability. If a political entity has to pay out for actions defending an individual in their hire, and then that individual is found to have acted wrongfully, then the taxpayer should be entitled to go after the funds expended wrongfully defending that individual.
The obvious reasons are what has happened to the taxpayer in the case of Jolene Blair, Terence Gilmore, and James Broderick. The taxpayer is probably out approximately $14,000,000 so far, if one counts everything from the very beginning of the case. Yes, the insurance covered a lot of it, but the insurance companies don't give away money do they? And we are still paying with respect to Lt. James Broderick.
These are some initial ideas as to what the citizens of Larimer County and Colorado can do to improve the administration and execution of justice in our State. All four of these ideas must, if placed on the ballot, include teeth to insure that the legislature implements the mandate of the electorate within a reasonable time, and that the laws they create have teeth to insure that they aren't ignored by the authorities.
[Modified 5/4/2011 - Added 3.]
[Modified 1/20/2012 - Corrected last paragraph of four to update information.]