Reporting on proposed judicial term-limit amendment, Gazette omitted key information about current judicial terms

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The Gazette omitted key information regarding terms served by Colorado appellate court judges from an article about the proposed Amendment 40. It reported that the ballot measure "would limit appellate judges to a two-year provisional term, then two four-year terms, for a total of 10 years on the bench" but failed to note that Colorado Supreme Court justices and Court of Appeals judges already face a retention election after their first two years on the bench.

Reporting on a proposed amendment to the Colorado Constitution that would subject appellate judges and Supreme Court justices to term limits, The Gazette of Colorado Springs on September 19 omitted key information about current state law regarding terms served by judges.

According to The Gazette, the ballot measure, Amendment 40, "would limit appellate judges to a two-year provisional term, then two four-year terms, for a total of 10 years on the bench." But The Gazette failed to note that Colorado Supreme Court justices and Court of Appeals judges already serve a provisional term lasting two years, after which they face a retention election.

The Gazette article by staff writer Dennis Huspeni noted that Amendment 40's sponsor, former Republican state Senate President John Andrews, "has been a vocal opponent of the Colorado Supreme Court, first over a 2003 redistricting issue and again this summer over an illegal-immigration ruling." The same article reported, "The measure would limit appellate judges to a two-year provisional term, then two four-year terms, for a total of 10 years on the bench. Currently, Supreme Court justices serve a 10-year term, and appellate court judges serve eight-year terms." However, the article failed to note that under current Colorado law -- as under the Amendment 40 proposal -- justices and appellate judges already serve a provisional two-year term, followed by a retention vote.

As Colorado Media Matters previously noted, under current law, the governor initially appoints Colorado Supreme Court justices and Court of Appeals judges. Following the provisional two-year term, Supreme Court justices face retention elections and, if voters retain them, serve 10-year terms, facing retention elections at the end of each term. Court of Appeals judges serve a provisional two-year term, followed by eight-year terms, and similarly face retention elections at the end of the provisional term and each subsequent full term.

There currently is no limit to the number of terms justices and judges can serve if voters retain them. Amendment 40 would limit service for justices and judges to 10 years total (a provisional two-year term followed by two four-year terms) and would require them to stand in retention elections at the end of their provisional terms and again four years later.

In contrast to The Gazette, the Rocky Mountain News reported on September 19 that, currently, "judges [in Colorado] are appointed by the governor. They face a retention vote after serving a two-year probationary period. If voters agree they should stay, appellate court judges serve eight-year terms and Supreme Court Justices serve 10-year terms before facing another retention vote." The News article also reported the bipartisan criticisms of Amendment 40, including those of current Republican Governor Bill Owens, who said in a statement: "Initiative 40 would seriously impair doing business in Colorado. Swapping out the appellate courts every 10 years would result in inconsistent rulings and would jeopardize the uniform application of the law."

A September 19 Denver Post article by staff writer Howard Pankratz did not mention the provisional two-year term in either its description of current law or its description of Amendment 40. According to the Post, "Amendment 40 would allow the justices and Court of Appeals judges to remain on the bench a maximum of 10 years. It would make the justices face a retention vote every four years, instead of every 10. The amendment would also make the appeals court judges face a retention vote every four years instead of every eight."

From the September 19 Gazette article by Dennis Huspeni, "Term limits for judges on ballot":

Andrews has been a vocal opponent of the Colorado Supreme Court, first over a 2003 redistricting issue and again this summer over an illegal-immigration ruling. But he said many of those who signed the ballot initiative petitions don't know who he is - they just think it's a good idea.

"I think (the signatures) reflect a widespread concern among Coloradans that the courts are out of control," Andrews said.

The measure would limit appellate judges to a two-year provisional term, then two four-year terms, for a total of 10 years on the bench. Currently, Supreme Court justices serve a 10-year term, and appellate court judges serve eight-year terms. They stand for retention elections after each term and must retire by age 72.

From the September 19 Post article by Howard Pankratz, "Judicial term limits ripped":

John Andrews, a former Colorado Senate president and chairman of the group pushing Amendment 40, said the gathering was a "group of political insiders and lawyers claiming we don't need any additional checks and balances on political insiders and lawyers.

"The political establishment rallies around a discredited status quo. No surprise there," he said.

Amendment 40 would allow the justices and Court of Appeals judges to remain on the bench a maximum of 10 years. It would make the justices face a retention vote every four years, instead of every 10. The amendment would also make the appeals court judges face a retention vote every four years instead of every eight.

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