One of the mostly unreported side effects of TABOR has been the gutting of our state court system. In some districts, clerk's office staff has been slashed so much that the offices close over the lunch hour and/or an hour early. In others, the number of judges has just not been able to keep up with the pace of growth. That background is what's missing from this Denver Post story about the growing practice of hiring retired judges to hear cases (at $200 to $400 per hour) in places like Arapahoe County where the district court just doesn't have enough judges to handle the case load generated by the booming population out there.
The article does mention critics who say this sets up a two tiered justice system for those who can afford private judges -- and of course that's true -- but what it should also have said is that the $3200 that the divorcing couple mentioned in the article paid to have a retired judge hear their case basically ate up a lifetime of TABOR rebates and then some. Under TABOR the state couldn't afford to maintain a court system that kept up with population growth in places like Arapahoe or Douglas Counties. (Weld County, you're next.) The couple may have saved money compared to the cost of getting lawyered up for a hearing that gets continued because the judge's calendar is full, but not compared to what they would have spent if they lived in a place (like the City and County of Denver) where the number of judges reasonably matches the court's caseload.
I know health care and education are pressing priorities, and I also know that the legislature's Democrats are working with a governor who wants to make road construction the highest Ref C priority. The state courts don't have lobbyists, but I hope the legislature and the governor recognize the belt-tightening in the third branch over the past few years and do something about it so we don't go to this two tiered system of justice based on wealth. I don't even mind that Governor Owens would be the one who would get to name new judges out in the counties that need them.