Law and Government of Colorado

Law and Government of Colorado

The Constitution of the U.S. State of Colorado provides for three branches of government: the legislative, the executive, and the judicial branches.cite web|url=|title=Constitution of the State of Colorado|format=HTML|publisher=The State of Colorado|accessdate=2008-04-09]


The legislative body is the Colorado General Assembly made up of two houses, the House of Representatives and the Senate. Members of the House are elected for two year terms from single member, equal population districts. Approximately half of the members of the state senate are elected each two years to four year terms from single member, equal population districts. The House of Representatives has 65 members and the Senate has 35.

Currently, Democrats are in control of both chambers of the General Assembly. The 64th Colorado General Assembly is the first to be controlled by the Democrats in forty years. The current Speaker of the Colorado House of Representatives is Andrew Romanoff (D-Denver), and the current President of the Colorado Senate is Peter Groff (D-Denver).


The Governor heads the state's executive branch. The current Governor of Colorado is Bill Ritter (D). Colorado's other statewide elected executive officers are the Lieutenant Governor of Colorado (elected on a ticket with the Governor), Secretary of State of Colorado, Colorado State Treasurer, and Attorney General of Colorado, all of whom serve four-year terms.

There are also elected members of the Colorado State Board of Education and the Regents of the University of Colorado are elected from districts coterminous with Colorado's U.S. House of Representative districts, or at large. As a result, the Governor does not have direct management authority over either the Department of Education, or any of the state's institutions of higher education.

Most crimes in Colorado are prosecuted by a District Attorney, a partisan state elected official. One District Attorney is elected for each of twenty-two state judicial districts. The state attorney general, who is also a partisan elected official, also has power to prosecute certain crimes, and in rare circumstances a special prosecutor may be appointed to prosecute a crime on a case by case basis. Municipal ordinance violations are prosecuted by city attorneys.

The executive branch of Colorado state government comprises 19 departments:
*Colorado Department of Agriculture (CDA) [ web]
*Colorado Department of Corrections (CDOC) [ web]
*Colorado Department of Education (CDE) [ web]
*Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing (CDHCPF) [ web]
*Colorado Department of Higher Education (CDHE) [ web]
*Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS) [ web]
*Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE) [ web]
*Colorado Department of Law and the Office of the Attorney General (CDOL) [ web]
*Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) [ web]
*Colorado Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (DMVA) [ web]
*Colorado Department of Natural Resources (CDNR) [ web]
*Colorado Department of Personnel and Administration (DPA) [ web]
*Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) [ web]
*Colorado Department of Public Safety (CDPS) [ web]
*Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) [ web]
*Colorado Department of Revenue (DOR) [ web]
*Colorado Department of State (DOS) [ web]
*Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) [ web]
*Colorado Department of Treasury (CDT) [ web]


The judicial branch is headed by the Colorado Supreme Court, which has both judicial functions, and general supervisory authority over the judicial branch and the state's lawyers. The current Chief Justice of the Colorado Supreme Court is Mary Mullarkey.

The judicial branch includes the Colorado Supreme Court, Colorado Court of Appeals, and District and County Courts. It is served by 285 justices and judges in 22 judicial districts across the state (excluding 17 Denver County Court judges).

There are also seven water courts, one in each of the major river basins, in which District Court judges who are also water court judges preside, using the facilities of the judge's District Court, and the Denver Probate Court and the Denver Juvenile Court each of which has jurisdiction over certain matters that would be handled by District Courts in other counties in the state.

Supervision of convicted criminals on probation is a responsibility of the judicial branch. Jails for individuals awaiting convention or sentencing, convicted of misdemeanors, petty offenses or ordinance violations, and for convicted felons awaiting transfers to state prison, are operated by county sheriffs. Prisons for adults and supervision of individuals on parole is the responsibility of the state government through the state department of corrections. Incarceration of juvenile and certain mentally ill offenders are also the responsibility of the state government.

Colorado also has municipal courts in most municipalties which are not part of the state court system. In Denver, which has consolidated City and County status, county courts and municipal courts are integrated and are not part of the state court system for administrative purposes.


District Courts in Colorado are courts of general jurisdiction that serve primarily as trial courts. There are twenty-two judicial districts in the state, although court filings in District Court generally indicate the county within the District in which the action is filed and the District Court generally conducts proceedings in that action in that county. In the City and County of Denver, the Denver Probate Court and the Denver Juvenile Court are vested with jurisdiction over probate and juvenile matters respectively. Outside the City and County of Denver, these matters are within the jurisdiction of the District Courts. Colorado's seven water courts have exclusive jurisdiction over adjudications of water rights.

County Courts in Colorado are courts of limited jurisdiction limited to misdemeanor cases, preliminary matters in felony cases, evictions, civil cases not involving ownership of real property seeking money damages up to $15,000, and several other narrowly defined types of cases such as name changes and temporary restraining orders. There is one county court in each of Colorado's counties (including the consolidated cities and counties of Denver and Broomfield).

Colorado also has municipal courts in most municipalities whose jurisdiction is limited to ordinance violations with punishments no more severe than misdemeanor offenses. Some municipal courts are courts of record which can impose greater sanctions for ordinance violations and are subject to appellate review in a manner similar to state courts. Other municipal courts are courts not of record, which can impose only less severe sanctions for ordinance violations, whose decisions are appealed through trials "de novo" in the appellate court. A small number of municipal courts in Colorado have been granted civil jurisdiction in certain ordinance cases, such as cases involving land use, in addition to quasi-criminal jurisdiction under municipal home rule powers.

With certain exceptions, appeals of right from Districts Courts, the Denver Probate Court and the Denver Juvenile Court are to the Colorado Court of Appeals. The exceptions include death penalty cases, cases where a law is found to be unconstitutional by a District Court, water court cases and discretionary appeals following county or municipal court appeals of right. The Colorado Court of Appeals also has jurisdiction over appeals directly from certain state administrative bodies.

Most appeals from County Courts, municipal courts and quasi-judicial local decision making bodies are made to a District Court.

All appeals other than appeals of right, including most appeals prior to a final judgment in civil cases, are to the Colorado Supreme Court.

Judicial appointment and retention

State judges and justices are appointed by the Governor, from a list of three persons presented by blue ribbon merit selection committees. After two years in office, and then after the expiration of each full term in office, judges are subject to retention elections in which voters can choose to retain or not retain a judge.

Denver County Court judges are appointed by the Mayor from choices presented by a blue ribbon merit selection committee, and subject to retention elections in the same manner as state court system county court judges.

Historically, about 99% of judges facing retention elections are retained by the voters. Voters have never voted not to retain an appellate judge in the forty years that the system has been in place. Voters tend to not retain judges only when there is a well publicized scandal and usually also a recommendation from a state committee that a judge not be retained. Judges may also be impeached by the legislature (a very rare occurrence) and are monitored by a judicial discipline commission. Many complaints about judges found by the judicial discipline commission to warrant further investigation are resolved when the judge involved retires, rendering the investigation moot. Colorado judges are not subject to recall elections.

State committees make recommendations to voters on the retention of judges distributed in booklet form with partial justifications prior to each judicial retention election.

The appointment and retention of municipal court judges is governed by municipal ordinance. All or almost all municipal judges are appointed.

Judicial qualifications

Appellate judges, District Court judges, Denver Probate Court judges, Juvenile Court judges and County Court judges in larger counties are required to be lawyers. Trial courts also often have magistrates with many judicial powers appointed by the court who must also be lawyers.

County Court judges in smaller counties are not required to be lawyers, but currently there are no more than four non-lawyer state judges in Colorado, all of whom are part-time, and at least three of whom are college educated.

Preference in hiring municipal judges must be given to lawyers. Municipal judges in courts of record must be lawyers, while municipal judges in courts not of record need not be lawyers. In practice, all of the larger municipalities in Colorado have municipal courts of record with judges who are lawyers. Many municipal judges who are lawyers serve on multiple municipal courts and/or are part-time county court judges.

U.S. Congress

The State of Colorado is represented by two United States Senators:
*United States Senate Class 2 - Alan Wayne Allard (Republican) 1997-2009 (Retiring)
*United States Senate Class 3 - Kenneth Lee "Ken" Salazar (Democratic) 2005-The State of Colorado is represented by seven Representatives to the United States House of Representatives:
*Colorado's 1st congressional district - Diana Louise DeGette (Democratic) 1997-
*Colorado's 2nd congressional district - Mark Emery Udall (Democratic) 1999-2009 (Retiring to run for U.S. Senate)
*Colorado's 3rd congressional district - John Tony Salazar (Democratic) 2005-
*Colorado's 4th congressional district - Marilyn Neoma Shuler Musgrave (Republican) 2003-
*Colorado's 5th congressional district - Douglas L. "Doug" Lamborn (Republican) 2007-
*Colorado's 6th congressional district - Thomas Gerard "Tom" Tancredo (Republican) 1999-2009 (Retiring)
*Colorado's 7th congressional district - Edwin George "Ed" Perlmutter (Democratic) 2007-

As of November 9, 2007, Wayne Allard, Mark Udall, and Tom Tancredo have all announced that they do not intend to run for re-election in their current positions in 2008, creating open seats. Udall is running for the U.S. Senate seat in Colorado, while Allard and Tancredo are, for now, retiring from electoral politics.


Colorado is considered a very independent state politically, having elected 17 Democrats and 12 Republicans to the governorship in the last 100 years. Incumbent Governor Bill Ritter, who was elected in 2006 is a Democrat, while his predecessor, Governor Bill Owens, who won election in 1998 and 2002 was a Republican. The state supported Democrat Bill Clinton in 1992, and the Republican presidential nominees in 1996 and 2000.

Recently, the state appears to be moving towards the ideological center. For the first time in recent memory, in 2008, Colorado had more voters registered to vote who are not formally affiliated with either party than either Democrats or Republicans. More Colorado voters are registered to vote as Republicans than as Democrats. But, the number of voters registered as Democrats have increased since 2006, while the number of voters registered as Republicans has declined since 2006.

As of February 2008, the Colorado delegation to the U.S. Senate is split evenly. The senior Senator, Wayne Allard (R), is retiring. His open seat is regarded as one of the most contested Senate races in 2008 [] . The junior Senator, Ken Salazar (D), is viewed by many as a moderate.

Of Colorado's 7 representatives [] in the U.S. House of Representatives, 3 are Republicans, and 4 are Democrats [] . John Salazar (D) who represents the 3rd Congressional District (the brother of U.S. Senator Ken Salazar) is one of the conservative Democrats known as the blue dogs.

George W. Bush won the state's 9 electoral votes in 2004 by a margin of 5 percentage points with 51.7% of the vote. In the same election in 2004, the Democrats won every open seat race in the state, picking up a seat in the United States Senate and a seat in the House of Representatives. Democrats also captured control of both the state House and Senate for the first time in 40 years.

Democrats are strongest in metropolitan Denver, Boulder, and southern Colorado (including Pueblo, and a few western ski resort counties). Republicans are strongest in the rural plains region, Colorado Springs, the Western Slope (including Grand Junction), and some of the Denver suburbs. The fastest growing parts of the state, particularly Douglas, Elbert and Weld counties in metro Denver, are strongly Republican.

Most Colorado residents are native-born Coloradans. The state's politics reflect this fact. Incumbent Governor Ritter is the first native-born Coloradan to hold the post since 1975 when John David Vanderhoof left office. Ritter is also the first native Coloradan to be elected to the Governorship in nearly fifty years, with the last being fellow Democrat Stephen L.R. McNichols in 1958 (Vanderhoof ascended from the Lieutenant Governorship when John Arthur Love was given a position in Richard Nixon's administration in 1973.)

Colorado is expected to surpass California as the state making the widest use of the initiatives and referendum process in its governance in 2008.

ee also

*Colorado counties
*Colorado General Assembly
*Colorado municipalities
*Colorado Public Utilities Commission
*Colorado Supreme Court
*Constitution of the State of Colorado
*Governor of Colorado
*History of Colorado
*List of Colorado ballot measures
*List of Governors of Colorado
*Lieutenant Governor of Colorado
*State of Colorado
*United States Congressional Delegations from Colorado


External links

* [ State of Colorado government website]
** [ Colorado Constitution and statutes]

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