View Full Version : Owens’ judge picks were many, male and often DAs

09-09-2007, 12:08 PM
Owens’ judge picks were many, male and often DAs

September 9, 2007 - 8:25AM

Former Republican Gov. Bill Owens appointed more judges in his two terms in office than any other governor in Colorado’s history.

Owens’ 174 appointments, from County Court judge up to Supreme Court justice, outnumbered both governors before him combined: Roy Romer appointed 114 and Dick Lamm named 59. Each served three terms.

Owens’ first pick for the Colorado Supreme Court, Denver Deputy District Attorney Nathan Ben Coats in 2000, showed early the type of judge Owens preferred.

Almost half of Owens’ judges were prosecutors or former prosecutors, and 70 percent were men.

A Gazette review of Owens’ judicial appointments during his eight years in office shows at least 72 had served multiple years as prosecutors. In that same period, Owens appointed only four judges with public defender experience.

Though not even a full year into his first term, Gov. Bill Ritter has appointed more judges — five — with public defender experience. One attorney, former Deputy Public Defender Jonathan Walker, is thought to be the first active public defender named to a judgeship in nearly a decade. Walker was appointed by Ritter as an El Paso County Court judge in May.

Of Ritter’s first 22 appointments, five have public defender experience, seven were former prosecutors and 10 were from private practice or already judges. Nearly 40 percent were women.

“I absolutely think it’s one of the most important things a governor does,” said Ritter, former Denver District Attorney from 1993 through 2004 and a Democrat.

As of July 1, there were 285 judges in the state: county, district, court of appeals and Supreme Court justices. That means Owens appointed more than 60 percent of the state’s judges in his two terms.

While more recent appointments are bringing judges with diverse backgrounds to the bench, most legal experts say they don’t think the change will have a significant impact on what happens in most courtrooms.
It’s only in the state’s highest courts that judges rule as a group.

During his tenure, Owens appointed 14 of the 19 Court of Appeals judges, or 73 percent. Among the seven Colorado Supreme Court Justices, Owens appointed two judges, both considered conservative.

Still, most of the justices were put on the bench by Romer, a Democrat, and legal experts say it leans left politically.
Owens declined to comment for this story.


Political and legal experts say it’s natural for a governor to appoint judges who share his or her ideology.

Owens made no secret he wanted tough judges to hand out stiff sentences.

“There weren’t a lot of prosecutors appointed to the bench in recent years,” Owens told the House Republican Caucus shortly after taking office in 1999.

“I think I’ve done exactly what I said I would do: I said I would appoint a different type of judge,” Owens said in 2002. “I said I would, in fact, put judges on the bench who understand the impact of crime and understand the importance of the criminal justice system. A major function of government is to provide for public safety. So I plead guilty to that charge.”

A judge’s leanings toward prosecutors or defense attorneys is important: it’s one of the things the state’s Commissions on Judicial Performance looks at when evaluating judges for retention recommendations.

Will those judges affect Colorado’s crowded prison system and county jails?
Many Colorado legal experts don’t see a need for alarm.

“The impact is not going to be as great as some people might fear,” said David Getches, dean of the University of Colorado at Boulder’s Law School.

The nominating commissions from each of Colorado’s 22 Judicial Districts send the governor three candidates. The governor then has 15 days to make a choice, or it falls to the state’s chief justice.

“Frankly, they don’t send up people who are incompetent,” Getches said. “I’d be very surprised to see a politicalization of the bench in either direction. ... You don’t see any swerves in the road.”
Getches concurs picking judges is a key duty of Colorado’s governor.

“It leaves a lasting legacy,” Getches said. “When you appoint a couple hundred judges, they’ll be around for 10, 20 or 30 years beyond that governor’s term. That’s a profound kind of impact to have.”


University of Denver law professor Robert Hardaway, an expert in politics and the law, said Owens’ reliance on prosecutors for judges didn’t bother him.

Many of those prosecutors have private practice experience, which would usually include criminal defense work, he said.

“I have always thought it was a terrible idea to appoint a judge who has only been on one side of the fence,” Hardaway said. “If I were governor, I would never appoint someone who was a lifetime prosecutor. By the same token, I wouldn’t appoint someone who had been a lifetime public defender, either.”

Former Colorado Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Love Kourlis, who founded DU’s Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System, said there’s a difference between an ideal group of judicial candidates, and reality.

“Ideally, the judiciary should be balanced between civil attorneys, criminal attorneys, men, women and people of all color and backgrounds,” Love Kourlis said. “On the other hand, with the exception of the Court of Appeals and the Colorado Supreme Court, each judge sits alone. So the balance of the whole system is probably less important than each individual judge’s ability to set aside personal bias and be fair.”

Ritter, a Democrat, said he doesn’t look at a judicial candidate’s political leanings.

“Certainly, people will have their own ideologies when coming on the bench,” Ritter said. “I always strive for candidates who will check that advocacy role, that part of their political ideology, and do the work of administering the law.”

Ritter said he’s worked in front of “great judges” who were former public defenders, so he is trying to strike a balance with his appointments. He also spoke highly of former prosecutors who’ve become judges, many from his office when he was district attorney.

“Each judge brings a different experience to the bench,” Ritter said. “If someone has expertise in defending insurance claims, other judges can ask about that when they have those cases. That’s part of the reason you want a balance.”

Getches said it’s obvious most people are satisfied with Colorado’s judges, as evidenced by voters rejecting term limits for Colorado judges last year.

“If we had a judicial system given to political mood swings, or prosectorial or defense swings, someone in the Bar would have been speaking for term limits,” Getches said. “I don’t know of any lawyers who were for that.”


The Gazette obtained the list of 174 judges appointed by former Gov. Bill Owens, and the 22 appointed by current Gov. Bill Ritter, from the Office of the State Court Administrator. The judges’ biographies were checked using information from the state’s Commissions on Judicial Performance, which recommends whether or not judges should be retained when standing for retention election. Information also was obtained from the individual judicial districts’ Web sites and in some cases by calling the judge’s clerks. Biographical information was unavailable for 10 judges appointed by Owens.

09-09-2007, 04:26 PM
Thanks for posting.

09-09-2007, 09:14 PM
Thanks Cindy.

09-10-2007, 02:41 AM
Cindy. This is exceptionally informative! Thank you for providing some, shall we say, ammunition! Information like this is most valuable, especially if we choose to go to those meetings. The statistics don't lie.

I'm s-o glad I found PTO. I have become a bit apathetic and definitely exhausted doing my own research. PTO is not only informative, it creates a bond. The support is excellent!

Blessings to you!


09-10-2007, 02:47 AM
You're very welcome. I only wish the public would pay more attention to what our lawmakers are up to...then maybe we wouldn't be in this fiscal money crisis with the prisons...we'd be putting our money into rehabilitation instead. But like Owens said, he was all about punishment. Ironically that didn't apply to his son who along with other friends a few years ago, vandalized the school buses belonging to Cherry Creek while he was attending high school there. He was only required to pay restitution...and he was a juvenile at the time, so with his records sealed, we'll never know if he actually paid it all or not. :cool:

09-10-2007, 09:27 AM
Hi Cindy...

Owens - son - did - WHAT?????? If THAT doesn't prove the existence of blatant elitism in governor Owens office, what does???

My bet is on a cover-up. No restitution, no charges, no nothing!

Aah. What a way to wake up.

Right you are. People need to pay attention to the so-called leaders. I'm just lately W-I-D-E awake concerning the deceptions of politicians and how they are constantly targeting the average Joe/Jane. This bit of history requires more research on my part to add to my growing list of grievances.

Thank you once again! I, for one, am SO glad Owens is gone. I despised his laughing-at-you grin --- which was noted by many news anchors all over the nation as being inappropriate during the Columbine incident.

Major sigh.......

:banghead: COFFEE!!!