By ANDREA EDDY AND MORGAN CALI
People come to court for various reasons, especially Denver County Court, which handles over 150,000 cases each year ranging from civil disputes to traffic tickets to criminal felony advisements. Historically, courts are outcome-oriented, focused on the decision-making process through the application of law. Judicial officers and other courtroom stakeholders often fail to appreciate the impact that the process itself has on human lives. Denver County Court is working to shift its focus to the human side of this process through its pledge to “procedural fairness.” There are four key elements to procedural fairness: “(1) treating court users with dignity and respect, (2) ensuring that they understand the process, (3) that they have a voice, and (4) that decisions are made neutrally.”1
The Denver County Court judges recognize that how they handle cases affects how well individuals comply with court orders and how they feel about the overall court system. This is not to suggest that practicing procedural fairness will make people happy when they lose a hearing or receive a ruling that harms their life, but they might have a better understanding of what happened and why. National research shows that “when court users perceive the justice system to be fair, they are more likely to comply with Court orders and follow the law in the future—regardless of outcomes in the case.”2 The conscious implementation and practice of procedural fairness in court proceedings helps us as judicial offers shift the focus from outcomes and consequences toward fairness of the process.
Overview of Denver County Court
Denver County Court is unlike any other jurisdiction in Colorado in that it is not a combined court with the district court.3 The Colorado Constitution carved Denver County Court out as separate from the Second Judicial District, and it handles both municipal and state cases. The City and County of Denver’s charter and ordinance determines (1) the appointment, retention, and succession of judges; (2) the county court’s jurisdiction, powers, and procedure; (3) the court’s administration; and (4) the performance and discipline of its judicial officers.4 The State does not fund the court. Instead, the City and County of Denver funds the court through appropriations. The court is an independent body from the State even though most cases that fall within the court’s jurisdiction are state criminal and civil cases.
The Denver County Court Nominating Commission nominates judges, who are appointed by the Denver Mayor rather than the Governor. A separate discipline commission handles complaints fled against the court’s judges. The court has the same appeals process as municipal and state appeals in other counties and jurisdictions; Denver District Court hears the court’s appealed municipal and state cases.
Denver County Court is the largest court in Colorado. It handles a wide array of legal matters, including state criminal cases, preliminary felony hearings, state civil cases, state protection orders, city municipal cases, and traffic matters. Currently, its courtrooms span three courthouses in Denver: the City and County Building, the Lindsay Flannigan Courthouse, and the Van Cise-Simonet building. Our bench consists of 17 judges and three full-time magistrates. We are lucky to serve among the most diverse judicial officers in the state. Our judges are experienced, varied in legal background, and often recognized as progressive and forward-thinking.
The National Policy Movement Toward Procedural Fairness
“Treat litigants the way you would like for others to treat your loved ones. Simply treating them in the way you would like to be treated is not good enough.” —Judge Andre Rudolph Courts across the nation struggle with overburdened dockets. People who often access...