Guest Column: Who Judges the Judges

Thomas J. Baker

The question is sometimes asked, especially at election time, “who judges the judges.”

Judges in Colorado are initially appointed by the governor from a list of screened qualified candidates. The retention of those judges after their initial term is a matter for the voters to decide. In 1988 Colorado created a system of commissions to provide voters with guidance for judges’ retention.

 A state wide commission evaluates appellate court judges from the Colorado Supreme Court and Colorado Court of Appeals, while district commissions evaluate district court and county court judges from their district.

There is a Judicial Performance Commission for each Judicial District in the state. Each of these ten member commissions consists of six non-attorneys and four attorneys, who serve for four year terms. They are appointed by the governor and the majority and minority leaders of the state Senate and House. This ensures that the commissions are truly bipartisan. 

The Judicial District Commissions on judicial performance provide voters with fair, responsible, and constructive evaluations of trial judges seeking retention in the general elections. To evaluate the performance of a judge, commissioners conduct interviews with the prosecutor, public defender, and Chief Judge; engage in courtroom observation; and review survey information from attorneys, litigants, law enforcement personnel, court employees, and probation officers. Finally an interview and self-evaluation are conducted with the judge being evaluated. 

Judicial District 9 consists of Rio Blanco, Pitkin, and Garfield Counties. This year the Judicial Performance Commission for JD 9 had only one judge to evaluate.

District Court Judge Denise K. Lynch was found to meet performance standards. The ten commissioners of the Judicial Performance Commission for Colorado’s 9th Judicial District voted unanimously for that recommendation.

In evaluating Judge Lynch’s performance, each commissioner observed her in court and conducted interviews with the public defender, the district attorney, the chief judge for the 9th Judicial District, and Judge Lynch. The commission also reviewed surveys from 2020 filled out by attorneys, non-attorneys (such as jurors and litigants), and court personnel; a self-evaluation completed by the judge; and performance statistics relating to her docket management. In addition, to track Judge Lynch’s performance over time, the commission reviewed surveys from 2011, 2014, and 2017. Judge Lynch throughout her career has received above-average marks as compared with all Colorado district court judges in the areas of case-management, application and knowledge of law, communication, diligence, demeanor, and fairness.

Judge Lynch received a B.A. from Michigan State University in 1979. She received her law degree from the Thomas M. Cooley Law School at Western Michigan University in 1982, graduating summa cum laude. In 2001, she began working as an Assistant County Attorney for Garfield County and continued that work until her appointment to the bench in 2006. 

A more detailed narrative appears in the State Ballot Information Booklet (also known as the Blue Book) and on the Office of Judicial Performance website:

The ultimate answer to who judges the judges is that you do.

By THOMAS J. BAKER |Public Information Liaison, 9th Judicial District Performance Commission