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How Does The Colorado Court Of Appeals Work?
The Colorado Court of Appeals is the intermediate appellate court of the state. The court was established to provide quick, fair, and unbiased resolutions to appeals of orders and judgments of the state’s trial courts as provided by law. Under Section 13–4–101, et seq., of the Colorado Revised Statutes and Section 1 of Article VI of the Colorado Constitution, the Colorado Court of Appeals has initial jurisdiction, with exceptions, over appeals originating from the following courts:
- Denver Juvenile Court;
- Denver Probate Court; and
- Colorado District Courts.
The Court of Appeals also has appellate jurisdiction over decisions originating from specific Colorado administrative boards and entities such as the Industrial Claim Appeals Office. Decisions of the Court of Appeals’ may be appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court.
The Colorado Court of Appeals comprises 22 judges who are initially appointed to an approximate two-year term. At the provisional term’s expiration, a judicial performance commission reviews a judge’s work, interviews the judge, and submits whether the judge’s performance meets the required standards. In the subsequent general election, Colorado citizens vote on the retention of a judge. The performance commission reviews each judge’s performance every four years and submits a voter recommendation every eight years.
Court of appeal judges are required to be qualified electors of Colorado and must have obtained a license to practice law in the state for at least five years. Judges in the court of appeals may not hold their offices beyond the age of 72. Upon attaining the age of 72, judges must retire, with the office becoming vacant.
The Colorado court of appeals has a court clerk, which has a combined staff of approximately 13 persons. These staff members are responsible for receiving pleadings, issuing out orders, announcing cases, managing dockets, and organizing case files. The court also employs 19 full-time Staff Attorneys and support staff. Staff Attorneys have practiced law and have acquired specific expertise in certain areas of appellate law. Among a few other duties, Staff Attorneys draft predisposition memorandums (PDMs).
The court of appeals also employs three Motions and Jurisdiction Counsel. The counsel reviews and rules on several routine motions, present more complex motions to one of three judges for resolution, and screen cases to ensure that the court has jurisdiction per section 13–4–102, Colorado Revised Statutes 2016. The Counsel may also issue orders directing the parties involved in a case to address potential jurisdictional issues. In all, the Colorado court of appeals employs over 100 staff, including judges.
After a party to a case files a notice of appeal, the case goes through a few preliminary stages. The Motions and Jurisdiction Counsel screen the new case for potential jurisdictional issues. Where parties file motions, the Counsel also reviews and processes the motions for resolution. The court of appeals separates a panel of three judges as a motions division. The panel decides any dispositive motions, and its membership is rotated monthly. Once the parties file briefs, the law clerks screen the briefs to ensure that they comply with the court of appeals’ formatting rules. Screening duties are rotated among the law clerks every month.
Upon full briefing of a case, the clerk’s office circulates at-issue sheets to all judges. The sheets contain the case number, the name of the parties involved, attorneys, and participating trial court judges, the court, agency, or tribunal from which the appeal stems. The judges must review the sheets to determine if they are disqualified or must be judicial conduct code.
All divisions of the Colorado court of appeals function independently of each other similar to how federal circuits operate in the Federal judiciary system. However, the Colorado court of appeals is not authorized to sit en banc. Each division of the court decides cases brought before it in light of its interpretation of binding and persuasive authority. That is, each division may consider the law differently and issue varying decisions. The divergence between division decisions is one reason the Colorado supreme court may grant certiorari.
In the court of appeals, attorneys to the parties involved in a case may request oral argument. Oral arguments are routinely granted; however, such requests may be denied at the discretion of a division. Conversely, a court of appeal division may order an oral argument even when a party has not requested one. The court streams oral arguments live. Live and audio archives for oral arguments may be accessed on the Colorado courts website’s live broadcast page, and the schedule for previous and upcoming oral arguments is available on the oral arguments page. Case announcements are also public online.
There is only one geographical division of the Court of Appeals. The court is located in Denver but may sit in any county seat to hear cases. The court’s judges sit in three-member panels to decide on cases. The Chief Judge of the Court is appointed by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. In turn, Chief Judge assigns judges to the divisions of the court and rotates their assignments. Other responsibilities of the Chief Judge of the Colorado Court of Appeals include:
- Developing court policies
- Working on budget issues
- Supervising facilities and all court staff
- Reviewing cases and writing opinions; The Chief Judge may substitute for a recused judge and sit on panels with senior judges.
In some instances, such as in death penalty appeals and some appeals involving interlocutory relief and initiative processes, the Court of Appeals may be bypassed with appeals handled directly by the Colorado Supreme Court.
Once a year, the Colorado Court of Appeals’ panels hear cases at the University of Denver, Sturm College of Law and the University of Colorado School of Law to allow students experience the appellate process. The Court of Appeals has two courtrooms located at: