Honorable Christopher E. Acker
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Honorable Christopher E. Acker (Courtesy of Colorado Judicial Branch)

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An El Paso County Court judge who was slapped with a scathing job review in this year’s Blue Book will soon be out of a job.

Voters on Tuesday ousted Judge Christopher Acker by a six-point margin, casting 86,268 votes against keeping him for another four-year term compared to 76,113 votes in support of his retention.

Acker’s term will expire Jan. 7, said Jon Sarche, a spokesman for the Colorado Judicial Branch. A search for his replacement will begin once election results are certified.

Acker’s ouster came three months after a Colorado Commission on Judicial Performance panel issued a rare failing grade to Acker, concluding in a 4-1 vote that he “does not meet performance standards.”

In a harsh assessment printed in this year’s voters guide, which went out to all registered voters in El Paso and Teller counties, the nonpartisan panel knocked Acker over complaints he is “biased” in favor of prosecutors, rude to people who appear before him and “formulaic” in his approach to justice.

The panel based its critiques on surveys from attorneys, court staff and members of the public, as well from in-court observations, a review of written opinions and a personal interview with the judge. In a 100-word response, Acker defended his standing as a “law and order judge” who incarcerates dangerous drivers, punishes probation violators and holds to the letter of the law.

Acker did not respond to a message on his voice mail requesting comment.

Three other El Paso County Court judges and eight 4th Judicial District judges were retained Tuesday after earning positive reviews.

Only two other El Paso County judges have received negative job reviews since the judicial review system was created in 1988, and both were retained by voters despite a “Do not retain” recommendation printed in the Blue Book.

This year, at the direction of the state Legislature, the commission dropped the “Retain/Do not retain” language and instead presented its assessments without a recommendation to voters — keeping the focus on whether judges met or failed to meet performance standards.

That change appeared to resonate with voters, said Kent Wagner, the executive director on the state Office of Judicial Performance Evaluation.

Of the 128 judges up for review this year, two received failing grades, and both were voted out, according to preliminary results. Eighteenth Judicial District Judge Phillip L. Douglass was the other judge ousted from office Tuesday after a negative review.

“We had comments from some folks saying they didn’t like that we were telling them how to vote,” Wagner said.

Each judicial district is assigned a performance review board, generally with 10 members, consisting of four attorneys and six nonattorneys. Members are appointed by the chief justice of the Colorado Supreme Court, the governor, the speaker of the House and the president of the Senate.

Since 1990 — the year of Colorado’s first judicial retention election — a total of 14 judges have been removed by voters, Wagner. Ten of them received negative job reviews, and the remaining four were voted out despite a positive recommendation.

This year’s election — which set a new record for midterm voters — saw high interest in the commissions’ work, along with confidence in their findings.

The state website that carries judicial evaluations received roughly 2 million visits between October and November, double the number from a comparable period in 2016.

The fiery confirmation hearings of now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh likely stoked some of the interest, Wagner said, spawning questions from the public about how judges are selected in Colorado and how they are retained.

Reporter

I cover legal affairs for The Gazette, with an emphasis on the criminal courts. Tips to lance.benzel@gazette.com

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