Courthouse close with Justice inscribed

Welcome to Court Crawl, Colorado Politics' roundup of news from the third branch of government. The state's two senators have already sent the White House a list of names to fill a judicial vacancy that's still another nine months in the future, and the Colorado Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments this week.

Familiar faces in the running for judgeship

•  When U.S. District Court Judge Christine M. Arguello announced in August that she would be stepping down as an active judge a mere 11 months in the future, it could have given the powers that be license to procrastinate. But they didn't. Already, U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper have forwarded their preferred candidates for the seat to the Biden administration. 

• There are two familiar names on the list: Nina Wang, a current magistrate judge, and Kenzo Kawanabe, an intellectual property lawyer, were both finalists for the last district court vacancy earlier this year. To round out the current group, the senators choose Gordon P. Gallagher, also a magistrate judge who is stationed in Grand Junction.

•  Colorado Politics previously reported that Bennet and Hickenlooper have been serious — perhaps even aggressive — about sending candidates to the White House for judicial vacancies in a timely manner. While their advocacy has resulted in two judges confirmed to date, the Senate has taken its time in scheduling workers' rights attorney Charlotte N. Sweeney for a hearing, even though the vacancy she would be filling was announced back in March and the senators made their recommendations soon thereafter.

In other personnel news

•  On Friday, the state Supreme Court made it official: Judge Gilbert M. Román will be the next chief judge for the Court of Appeals, succeeding Steve Bernard when he retires at the end of this year. Román is a 2005 appointee of Gov. Bill Owens, and would not only be the first Latino in the top job, but also the first chief subject to a four-year term limit. His most recent judicial performance evaluation stated that he was impartial, fair and courteous.

•  That courtesy was on display last month, when Román was presiding over a three-judge panel hearing the case of People v. Kraaz. The oral arguments were in person (with masks), instead of virtual. One of the other judges was David H. Yun, who took his seat on the Court of Appeals on Feb. 29, 2020 — days before the first confirmed coronavirus case in Colorado. As we all know, the state entered shutdown mode soon after. Román picked up the story:

"Judge Yun was originally scheduled to have his formal investiture last week and his parents flew out from California, as did one of his sisters. And then because of pandemic concerns, it got canceled for the second time. This is Judge Yun’s first in-person argument, but he’s been with us for 18 months."

After recognizing Yun's father, mother and two sisters in the audience, Román continued: "I had the pleasure of swearing in Judge Yun in a private ceremony…and I want you to know that he’s doing a great job and we’re just so pleased that he’s with our court."

Judge Gilbert M. Román

Court of Appeals Judge Gilbert M. Román

Judge David H. Yun

Colorado Court of Appeals Judge David H. Yun

Supreme Court schedule

•  Beginning Tuesday, the justices of the Colorado Supreme Court will resume oral arguments in several noteworthy cases. The Court Crawl will be keeping its eyes on these:

People v. VialpandoThe Court of Appeals ordered a new trial after the majority concluded the prosecutor improperly implied that the defendant's exercise of her constitutional right to a jury trial was further proof of her guilt — plus there were a series of other errors during the relatively short trial.

Tibbels v. People and Pettigrew v. People: In both cases, a judge tried to illustrate reasonable doubt for the jury by going beyond the boilerplate language, potentially lowering the burden of proof for the prosecution. In Pettigrew's case, there is also a question about the constitutionally of a cell phone search by police.

In Re: Colorado Independent Congressional Redistricting Commission: As the state constitution requires, the Supreme Court will review the congressional redistricting map that an independent commission recently approved.

Denver check-in

•  Joseph Maldonado, the Christian man who challenged Denver's policy at Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre of keeping free speech activities confined to five remote locations, will now be able to proselytize at a parking lot near the entrance, after a federal judge found the city didn't have a compelling interest in keeping that space off-limits.

•  Denver also asked the U.S. Supreme Court not to hear the appeal of Levi Frasier, who claims police officers retaliated against him for filming an act of brutality. The City Attorney's Office argues the nation's highest court should uphold a lower court decision granting the officers immunity for their actions.

• A federal judge has allowed an Aurora woman to sue the Denver police officer who arrested her. The officer went to the wrong hospital and placed the wrong person under arrest, failing to verify if she was actually the suspect he was investigating. 

Denver's Red Rocks Amphitheater under construction circa 1935

Denver's Red Rocks Amphitheater under construction circa 1935.

High-profile conviction affirmed

•   Sir Mario Owens, one of the final three men on Colorado's death row before the abolition of capital punishment last year, failed to win a new trial from the Court of Appeals. In a 100-page decision, the appellate court upheld his murder conviction, despite a series of irregularities and shortcomings in the original trial.

•   Meanwhile, the city of Colorado Springs may be held liable for failing to train its officers, a judge ruled in a civil lawsuit from the father of Jeffrey Melvin, who died following an April 2018 encounter with city police.

Miscellaneous decisions

•  The federal prison in Florence did not retain surveillance video that allegedly showed an inmate being compliant after he reportedly assaulted a correctional officer. Although the inmate asked for the criminal charge to be dismissed, a judge said the missing video was not crucial to his defense.

• The state Supreme Court will decide whether an Arapahoe County judge violated a man's Sixth Amendment right to a public trial by excluding just one person — the wife of his codefendant — from the courtroom.

 A federal judge determined that an anti-mask school board candidate in the Cherry Creek School District should be allowed to participate in the final campaign forum.

•  Frontier Airlines' pilots and flight attendants who are suing their employer for failing to accommodate their pregnancies and lactation succeeded in getting a judge to consolidate their separate lawsuits.

See you in two weeks

The Court Crawl will take next Monday off, and will see everyone again on Oct. 25.

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