Posted on Oct 13, 2021
Last week on 10/13/2021, fellow Rotarian Judge Juan VillaseƱor provided a primer on the Colorado Judicial Branch, described the effects COVID has had on operations and warned us that understaffing combined with exponential growth in Larimer and Weld Counties will result in longer resolution of cases.

The Colorado Judicial Branch is defined in the Colorado Constitution on Art VI, S1. It includes the Supreme Court, District, County and the Denver Court system (Probate and Juvenile). In CO there are 22 judicial districts, 196 district judges, 114 county judges (Denver has 17 appointed by the mayor), 22 in the Court of Appeals and 7 Supreme Court Judges. A map of the judicial districts highlighted the urban and rural differences. The 18th district is the largest (Arapahoe/Douglas counties) with the busiest dockets and longest delays. The District Court Jurisdiction includes criminal matters (felony and misdemeanors), civil claims, juvenile matters, probate, mental health, domestic relations, and appeals from the county courts.

What were the impacts of COVID? As in most areas of society, the impact was most severe early on and has evolved towards a new normal.  At first, all jury trials were cancelled.  A maximum of 10 persons could be present in court with social distancing.  Most hearings (eg, divorce) were virtual. Criminal dockets were consolidated. Gradually, things have returned to normal.  In January 2021 jury trials resumed (with masking). Criminal cases declined for a short period after COVID hit but now are increasing.

What does staffing look like in the 8th District?  There are 9 District Court Judges, 5 County Court Judges and 6 Magistrates.  There are approximately 120 trial court staff and approximately 105 probation staff. These numbers reflect a staff shortage of 80%.  In spite of this, the docket handles 50-60 cases a day.

What will the needs be in the future with the predicted local population growth and the current (and future) staff shortage?   Larimer and Weld populations are predicted to increase by 92% from 2015-2045.  To meet the increased demand in the next 5 years,  2 additional courtrooms will be needed with 45% more staff.  In the Justice Center there are currently 16 courtrooms; 4 more are needed now with 9 additional courtrooms needed in the next 20 years. The result of increasing population growth and staff shortages for the general population is that cases will take longer to resolve.

We thank Judge VillaseƱor for the civics lesson we probably never got in school and alerting us to the needs of a branch of government that most of us will use sometime during are lives in the 8th Judicial District of Colorado.