Municipal Court Judges
Dear Mayor Suthers,
I read the article about your proposed reforms for municipal court
judges. I suggest broader reforms than simply setting a retirement age
and having periodic "evaluations."
1. Have voters conduct the evaluations through retention elections every
four years, just like (state) county court judges. That is true public
accountability. Require 60% voter approval to retain them.
A judge should show substantial public confidence; if he/she can't get
60% in an uncontested election, it's time to leave.
2. Adopt lifetime term limits of 8-12 years (to include prior service).
Thirty years on the bench, as mentioned by Judge Kane, is too long.
Future appointees should not have taxpayer-funded lifetime
pensions--only self-funded 401Ks.
3. Reduce the number of judges by attrition. Hire six full-time judges,
not 12 part-timers, and phase out magistrate/commissioner/referee
quasi-judicial positions. We have only five courtrooms (plus one extra
judge to fill in for vacations, sick days, etc.) We don't need liability
for a dozen or more lifetime pensions. $75,000 per year for a full-time
judge is plenty; their cases are not complex.
4. Have evening and Saturday court to accommodate working people. At
least one courtroom should be open at those times.
5. Abolish "court costs" that penalize parties who want a day in court.
Seeking justice should not cost "extra." Courts exist to serve the
public; citizens should not be treated as a nuisance. Abolish "jury
fees" for exercising a constitutional right; that surcharge is not
defensible. Both the innocent and the guilty have the same legal rights,
which should not carry a price tag.
6. The current practice of plea bargaining cuts points that affect
one's driver's license. It conceals unsafe driving from the DMV and
insurance companies in the interests of maximizing city revenue. That
puts cash ahead of public safety, the alleged reason for the traffic
code. Our courts have got their priorities exactly backwards. They
should focus on justice, not revenue. They offer a fiction of "cracked
windshield" to resolve a speeding ticket. Citizens are asked to agree to
a lie to defraud the state, insurance companies, and other drivers, then
pay for it. This practice should be abolished.
7. Requiring arraignment, pre-trial, and trial clogs up court calendars
with three appearances for contested cases. Pre-trial discussions should
occur at arraignment; unresolved cases should be set for trial. We are
being unfair to citizens who get a ticket and must take part of three
days off work to contest that ticket. They resent having to plead guilty
when they believe they are not guilty.
8. Tell Chief Carey to instruct his officers to expand traffic warnings,
not tickets. Police are now seen as revenue collectors, not guardians of
public safety; that image must change.
9. Phase out over four years our 2500+ parking meters. Replace them with
posted signs for two or three hour parking, enforced by three wheelers
chalking tires. Citizens already paid for the streets, curbs, and
gutters; they shouldn't have to pay again to "rent" their own property.
It is a deterrent to shopping downtown. Cars with out-of-county plates
should get a windshield flier, "Welcome to Colorado Springs. Please obey
our parking signs." Those who abuse that tolerance for tourists more
than monthly should have their license plates entered in a hand-held
computer and get a ticket. Sell our parking lots at auction to private
operators who will put the lots on the tax rolls. The city cannot
welcome business by competing with it.
10. Propose the code drastically reduce the number of offenses, jail
penalties, and fines. If you have not seen the code, it is enormous! Cut
it by 50%+ and citizens won't object, they will applaud. That dramatic
cut will increase their respect for the rule of law and those who
enforce it. I'm sure a former prosecutor like you understands that need
to protect public respect for the courts. Request specific repeals and
revisions in the code.