I recently spent some time speaking with Hetal Doshi and Emma Garrison, the co-chairs of the CWBA Judicial Committee. They filled me in on the due diligence process and endorsement process their committee members undertake, as well as best practices for members seeking an endorsement from the CWBA or members seeking to submit their feedback on a candidate. This information is incredibly beneficial for CWBA members to have access to and utilize, whether you are considering applying for a position on the bench or you are wanting to support a colleague in doing so.
Background Information on Due Diligence
When a judicial vacancy occurs in Colorado, either via a retirement of a judicial officer or the statutory creation of a new position, applicants apply through the Governor’s Office and the Judicial Nominating Committee selects three finalists, often referred to as the “shortlist”. The Governor’s appointment must be made within 15 days and is limited to the individuals on that shortlist.
It’s during this 15 day time frame that the CWBA Judicial Committee performs two important functions. First, the CWBA conducts due diligence for every applicant on the shortlist for a judicial vacancy. Second, if the CWBA receives requests for endorsement from one or more of the shortlisted applicants, the CWBA gives the Governor’s office an endorsement based on the due diligence and member feedback.
When the finalists apply with the Governor’s office, their application includes question 16, which asks the applicants to list co-counsel, opposing counsel, and judges that they have worked with in recent cases. As soon as the shortlist of finalists is announced, the CWBA Judicial Co-Chairs assign each finalist to a due diligence volunteer who then calls each person listed in question 16 for every finalist and asks them for specific, anonymous feedback. The CWBA Judicial Committee focuses on a list of specific qualities, including potential judicial temperament, legal ability, and, importantly, the applicant’s treatment of members of minority groups. Additionally, the CWBA Judicial Committee also solicits and encourages feedback from CWBA members by email.
The CWBA Judicial Committee also looks for implicit bias in information received during the due diligence process, and, where there is negative feedback, due diligence volunteers push the person providing feedback to be specific, and ask for examples. Rest assured, they do not take comments such as, “She’s just not that friendly,” at face value.
Once the committee completes the due diligence and receives feedback from CWBA members, the Co-Chairs compile the information into a single memo. That memo is eventually submitted to the Governor’s office, often on a tight-turnaround, and about a week before the governor must make his final decision. The CWBA considers its role in providing candid, reliable feedback to the Governor as an imperative part of continuing the tradition of having a fair and impartial judiciary in Colorado.
Obtaining an Endorsement from the CWBA
Any applicant on the shortlist for a district court or higher position can request an endorsement from the CWBA. The CWBA will only consider endorsing an applicant if the applicant submits a written request. The CWBA Judicial Committee Co-Chairs review the written request, along with the due diligence completed by their committee and make a recommendation to the CWBA Executive Committee. The CWBA Executive Committee is comprised of the Immediate Past President, President, President-Elect, Vice President, Secretary, Treasurer, and Historian. The Executive Committee considers the information provided and decides whom, if anyone, to endorse. Typically, the CWBA will only endorse one candidate, but they do have the ability to endorse more than one or to decline from endorsing any candidate, neither of which occur very often. If the CWBA decides to endorse a candidate, the CWBA President sends a letter of endorsement that highlights findings from the due diligence about that individual and submits the due diligence memo to the Governor’s office.
Tips for Candidates or Members Supporting a Candidate
For judicial vacancy candidates:
There is a short time frame to get the endorsement from the CWBA, so submit your request as soon as possible.
It’s also very impactful to the CWBA if candidates answer the CWBA’s call to action in our mission, rather than submitting a pro forma letter. Information about the CWBA’s mission can be found here (see Subsection II).
The CWBA is not the only bar association that endorses nominees, so be sure to reach out to the other diversity bars, as well.
When filling out question 16 on the application, remember that the Governor’s office, the CWBA, and other bar associations will be calling the people you identify, so list specific names (rather than saying “the public defender’s office”), make sure telephone numbers are correct, and, if you’d like, let people you list know that you did so, so they aren’t surprised when they receive a telephone call.
For members who want to submit feedback on candidates:
Your feedback gets factored into both the endorsement decision and into the due diligence memo to the Governor.
Try not to recycle the same letter you may have already submitted to the Governor’s office, and instead distill your feedback into a few bullet points or anecdotes that can easily be placed into the memo.
The CWBA very much values the feedback of our members, and member feedback makes up an important piece of the memo.
As a closing thought, the Judicial Committee Co-Chairs invite you to play a part in building the judiciary that you want to see. Next time a vacancy is announced, consider applying and/or encouraging someone else to apply!
Julia Kneeland Lazure is a partner at Kneeland & Lazure Law, LLC, where she works with individuals and families to navigate major changes in their lives, so they can have peace of mind and plan for their futures in the areas of estate planning, business law, and family law. She graduated from the University of Colorado School of Law, and prior to joining Kneeland & Lazure Law, LLC, Julia worked at Denver District Court as the Family Court Facilitator and served as a judicial law clerk. In addition to volunteering with the Colorado Women’s Bar Association, Julia serves on the planning committee for the Alternative Dispute Resolution Annual Continuing Legal Education Conference; volunteer guest lectures and provides trainings at Denver District Court; and is the Immediate Past President of the Junior League of Denver, a women’s training and civic leadership organization.