Judicial panel: Don’t retain Grand County Judge Ben McClelland | SkyHiNews.com

Judicial panel: Don’t retain Grand County Judge Ben McClelland

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Byron Hetzler/bhetzler@skyhidailynews.com | Sky-Hi News

The Commission on Judicial Performance for the 14th Judicial District has recommended that voters not retain Grand County Judge Ben McClelland.

“To the positive, it was generally regarded that Judge McClelland is consistent in his rulings, works to learn the law, gives the parties a fair chance to present their cases, and is accommodating when it comes to scheduling,” the panel notes in its evaluation. “He moves his docket forward, is efficient in court, and is a hard worker.  His oral communications in court are clear and direct and he maintains control over his courtroom.”

However, “To the negative, commenters, including some [Judicial Review] Commissioners, described Judge McClelland as arrogant, defensive, impatient, and lacking appropriate judicial demeanor,” according to the evaluation. “His lectures from the bench tend to be grandiose, offensive, and off-putting.  It was commented that Judge McClelland has a tendency, or at least the appearance, to rule based on his personal bias or opinion.  These characteristics do not meet required judicial criteria of communication and judicial temperament.”

“The Judicial Performance Survey grades judges by letters A through F.  My 2014 Judicial Performance average overall grade is a 3.00, or a B grade,” McClelland wrote in his response to the panel. “Eleven attorneys responded to the 2014 survey, one accused me of being arrogant.  Positive comments included “patient,” “smart,” “knows the law,” and “consistent rulings.”  Non-attorneys, including defendants, provided 83 written positive comments and 64 negative comments.   The Appeals Courts have upheld all of my trial court rulings.  I’m strict in the application of the law.  Comparing my local survey results to survey results in other counties is akin to comparing apples to oranges.”

When contacted Tuesday, Judge McClelland said the judicial cannon of ethics prohibits him from commenting on the matter beyond his official response to the evaluation.

He has served as a county judge in Grand County since Sept. 1, 2007, according to Court Administrator Heather Harms.

The evaluations, which will appear in the Colorado voter “Blue Book” to be distributed to registered voters prior to the November election, were released on Tuesday by the Office of Judicial Performance Evaluation, which was established by the Colorado Legislature in 1988.

The evaluations themselves are prepared by local commissions, in this case the Commission on Judicial Performance for the 14th Judicial District, which is comprised of 10 members including four attorneys and six non-attorneys.

Between 1990 and 2012, volunteer commissioners statewide have recommended that 1,147 judges be retained, of which 1,143 — or about 99.7 percent — have been. During that time, commissioners recommended not retaining a total of 17 judges, of which 11 — or almost 65 percent — were retained and six were not.

Judges are not elected in Colorado, but voters do have the option of voting to retain them or not on a rotating basis during regular elections. McClelland is the only judge practicing regularly in Grand County who is up for retention in the upcoming November election. Fourteenth Judicial District Judge Shelley Hill is up for retention, but she does not usually hear cases in Grand County. The panel recommends she be retained.

The process

The review commissioners arrived at their recommendation after reading written evaluations, including comments, about the judge from both attorneys and lay people. It also considered McClelland’s written response, a self-evaluation and orders and opinions written by the judge, according to the evaluation.

In addition, some commissioners personally observed the judge in the courtroom and interviewed him.

Of the attorneys surveyed, 56 percent recommended retention while 32 percent did not, and 12 percent made no recommendation. Statewide the average response from attorneys about county judges is that 78 percent recommend retention while 13 percent do not.

Of the non-attorneys surveyed about McClelland, 78 percent recommended retention and 14 percent did not, while about 9 percent had no comment regarding retention. (The percentages were rounded.) Statewide, 86 percent of non-attorneys on average recommend retention while 8 percent do not, according to the evaluation.

McClelland’s 3.0 grade average compares to a state average of 3.43 for all county judges facing retention this year.

The evaluation can be read at http://www.coloradojudicialperformance.gov/retention.cfm?ret=920.

Drew Munro can be reached at dmunro@skyhidailynews.com or 970-887-3334 ext 19600.

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