Welcome to Court Crawl, Colorado Politics' roundup of news from the third branch of government. The General Assembly has only a few days left to pass a bill that in theory would help ease the backlog of jury trials pending in Colorado, and the governor has appointed an accomplished thespian to the bench.
A path out of the backlog
• The chief justice asked the legislature for some flexibility in dealing with the 14,600 cases awaiting jury trial as of January. A mere five months later, the General Assembly leapt (?) into action: House Bill 1309 passed out of the House of Representatives on Friday, which would give an extra three or six months to the government to bring someone to trial.
• Judges and prosecutors say they need that extension because Colorado law requires the government to bring someone to trial within six months of their not guilty plea. Defense lawyers are not so keen on the idea, saying it undermines the constitutional right to a speedy trial and allows prosecutors to push off making tough decisions on cases.
“We didn’t hear any testimony from anybody that’s in prison, and if they want their constitutional right to a speedy trial to be given up without their consent. We didn’t hear from that." —Rep. Adrienne Benavidez, D-Adams County, who voted no on the bill.
News from the Supreme Court
• The state Supreme Court insulated the voter-approved redistricting commissions from legislative influence, deciding by 5-2 that the General Assembly could not prescribe how the two citizen-led redistricting panels handle the delayed release of census data.
• The justices have also directed the government to answer why prosecutors should be able to try a person a second time for felony DUI, after the Court reinterpreted the felony DUI law last year. The Court received an appeal out of Jefferson County, where the Court of Appeals lowered a man's DUI conviction from a felony to a misdemeanor — along with many others following the ruling. Any attempt by prosecutors to try him again, he says, would violate double jeopardy.
Vacancies and appointments
• The governor on Thursday named W. Eric Kuhn, senior assistant attorney general, to succeed retiring Judge Diana Terry on the Court of Appeals. Kuhn has worked in the Colorado Attorney General's Office since 2010 and is a 2006 graduate of the University of Denver Sturm College of Law.
• "Eric has been indispensable to the state since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, providing thoughtful and measured legal counsel on a wide variety of public health and constitutional issues.... He is a dedicated public servant and a great addition to the Court of Appeals, and that with this announcement at the beginning of pride month, the diversity of the Court of Appeals is increased with the addition of their only LGBT judge." —Gov. Jared Polis
• That's great, but it turns out Judge Anthony J. Navarro, who has been on the court since 2013, is the court's only LGBT judge at the moment. Kuhn would be the second. (The governor's office sent out a correction the following day.)
• The governor has also chosen Cajardo R. Lindsey, a personal injury attorney and former employee of the Denver City Attorney and Denver District Attorney's offices, to be a district court judge in the 18th Judicial District of Arapahoe, Douglas, Elbert and Lincoln counties. He succeeds Judge Natalie T. Chase, who resigned after her censure from the Colorado Supreme Court.
• Lindsey might be the closest thing Colorado now has to a celebrity judge: he is a theater and film actor whose resume includes 17 television and movie credits. Most recently, he appeared in Netflix's "Deadly Illusions" alongside Kristin Davis (of "Sex and the City").
• The Court Crawl was curious to know if Lindsey will continue his acting career while on the bench. Lindsey and the governor's office did not respond to questions. A spokesperson for the Judicial Department speculated that Lindsey might be the ultimate decision-maker.
• The state's Code of Judicial Conduct says that "a judge shall conduct the judge's personal and extrajudicial activities to minimize the risk of conflict with the obligations of judicial office." It goes on to explain that judges cannot be an "employee of any business entity" if it interferes with their judicial work. So, maybe not a red light or a green light, but it will be exciting to see what happens.
• Colorado Springs police used an overly-broad warrant to seize guns from a man suspected of shooting at a pedestrian, the 10th Circuit decided. However, just because the warrant was unconstitutional, it doesn't mean the evidence was prohibited at trial. The 10th Circuit sent the question back to the lower court to explore.
• An Arapahoe County judge agreed to block enforcement of Aurora's campaign finance law, following a lawsuit from Mayor Mike Coffman. The law limits political donation amounts and increases transparency.
The Court Crawl is on vacation next week, and will return on June 21. See you then!