As retention vote looms, Pitkin County judge gets high marks

Rick Carroll
The Aspen Times
Erin Fernandez-Ely

Pitkin County Judge Erin Fernandez-Ely often is tasked with determining the fate of others. Now voters are being asked to judge Fernandez-Ely.

Fernandez-Ely, who’s sat on the bench since being appointed in January 2000, is up for retention in the Nov. 4 election. She handles misdemeanors, traffic offenses, small-claims cases and domestic disputes, among other cases.

On Wednesday, the state of Colorado’s 9th Judicial Commission on Judicial Performance released its assessment of Fernandez-Ely, recommending by a 10-0 vote that she be retained.

The commission based its recommendation on a survey of respondents that included attorneys, court staff, jurors, litigants and law enforcement employees.

Ninety-one percent of the attorneys surveyed recommended that Fernandez-Ely be retained, 6 percent said she should not return, and another 4 percent made no recommendation. Seventy-five percent of non-attorneys recommended that the judge be retained, with 19 percent saying she should not. The remaining 5 percent did not offer a suggestion.

“Both attorneys and non-attorneys overwhelmingly recommended that she be retained,” the report said. “In addition, members of both groups commented that she exhibits intelligence, experience, compassion, understanding and patience and treats litigants fairly regardless of whether they have attorneys or not. Some respondents felt that she exhibited bias towards some criminal defendants, but others felt that she exhibited bias towards the prosecution. Several respondents commented that Judge Fernandez-Ely encouraged the parties to compromise and reach practical solutions to their disputes, which was viewed by some as a strength and by others as a weakness.”

Attorneys were surveyed on the judge’s case management; application and knowledge of the law; communications; demeanor; and diligence. They were asked to rank her on an “A” to “F” scale, with an “A” earning a numerical score of 4 and an “F” being 0.

Lawyers gave her an overall grade of 3.42. Her highest marks came in the demeanor category, in which 77 percent of the attorneys gave the judge an “A” for “treating participants with respect.” The fewest percentage of “A” grades came in the category of application of the law, with 40 percent of the attorneys giving her an “A” for being “willing to reconsider error in fact in law.”

Non-attorneys gave Fernandez-Ely an overall grade of 3.31. Her highest marks came in the communications section, in which 76 percent of the non-attorneys gave her an “A” for both “using language that everyone can understand” and “speaking clearly so everyone in the courtroom can hear what’s being said.”

The lowest percentage of “A’s” came in the fairness category, in which 60 percent of the non-attorneys said the judge treats “fairly people who represent themselves.” The same percentage gave her an “A” in the application-of-the-law category for being “willing to make a decision without regard to possible outside pressure.”

The report also noted Fernandez-Ely’s creation of a pretrial case-management program for Pitkin County Court as well as her role in the establishment of a mental-health “wellness court.”

For the complete report, visit http://www.coloradojudicial