Voters to make ruling on area judges |

Voters to make ruling on area judges

Paul Shockley

Joel Thompson, 14th Judicial District court judge, is one of two Colorado judges to receive a ‘do not retain’ recommendation among 104 judges whose jobs will be decided by voters in the general election.

Thompson, appointed to the bench in 1994 for the district covering Moffat, Routt and Grand counties, is the first judge in the history of the 14th Judicial District to receive a non-retain recommendation from the organization’s judicial performance commission.

Thompson, along with Moffat County Court Judge Mary Lynne James, both appear on local ballots for retention votes.

By a 6-to-4 vote, commissioners voted for James’ retention, a position she’s held since October 1984.

Meanwhile, Thompson’s non-retain verdict passed, 6 votes to 3.

Several survey responses, according to the performance commission’s written evaluation, described Thompson as “arrogant, rude or inconsiderate,” and questioned the judge’s “judicial temperament.”

Thompson received “A” ratings from roughly 28 percent of attorneys and just 38 percent of non-attorney’s roughly half the figure judges received statewide on the question of his courtesy toward parties

or witnesses.

“During his interview, Judge Thompson indicated that he is not intentionally discourteous to litigants and witnesses although this may be the perception,” the commission’s findings state.

John Ponikvar, spokesman for the 14th Judicial District’s committee, said Thompson’s low marks for courtesy and arrogance weighed heavier on the commission’s vote than the questions publicly raised on the judge’s private life during the Thomas Lee Johnson trial.

After a judicial performance commission’s retention recommendations are final, judges are given a chance to respond in person or in writing to the 10-member body. Thompson did not respond, Ponikvar noted.

“It’s is hoped through this process the judge feels this is constructive criticism,” he said.

Ponikvar said the scrutiny around Thompson’s personal life, while not the sole reason behind the ‘do-not-retain’ recommendation, was fair game in weighing his fitness for the job.

“They’re judging people’s lives, and their moral background should be above reproach or better than the average person,” Ponikvar said.

James, meanwhile, while earning the commission’s retention nod, had numerous questions raised on matters ranging from her courtroom temperament, to specific procedural worries, according to a published performance review.

“One area of concern was the grade given to Judge James on providing written communications in a clear, thorough and well-reasoned manner,” the commission’s report states.

Twenty-three percent of attorneys surveyed by the commission gave James a “C” on that question, while the statewide average for county judges receiving the same grade was 8 percent.

James also received comparatively low marks for ruling on motions in a timely manner, while the same survey called into question her in-court dealings with parties.

“Concerns were raised about Judge James’ judicial temperament with regard to her being patient, dignified and courteous to those she deals with in her official capacity,” according to the report, which cites survey results indicating she fell below statewide averages on preparedness for all court matters.

James reportedly expressed concerned over the findings, and admitted days “when she can be short and firm with people in her court.”

Of the 670 judges evaluated since Colorado enacted the four-year performance reviews in 1990, 14 have received do-not-retain recommendations, while no opinions were issued for eight, according to Michelle Stermer, director of the state’s judicial performance review program.

Four have been voted out of office.

If voters do not retain Thompson or James, a constitutionally mandated selection process would ultimately leave his or her replacement in hands of the governor.

From the date of the election’s certification, a 14th Judicial District selection committee would have 30 days to accept applications for the seat, then forward the names of two or three candidates to the governor, according to Mack Danford, clerk of the Colorado Supreme Court.

The governor would have 15 days from receiving the recommendations to name replacements, Danford said.

That same process roughly would apply in the event of a judge’s resignation, which they’re free to do anytime, he noted.

“For the process to work smoothly, we ask that they tell us if they plan to resign for the sake of time,” Danford added.

In Thompson’s case, Ponikvar said the district wouldn’t necessarily be hamstrung as far as adequate numbers of judges hearing cases, should he resign.

“I don’t think it would create any problems,” he said. “We should be able to fill in where the need is.”

Paul Shockley can be reached at 824-7031 or at

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