Strange Case in Lakewood City Council Race

Michael Bieda

We haven’t talked much about local municipal races this year, in part because there hasn’t been a lot of terribly interesting news to discuss. Most city council races are fairly quiet affairs that don’t generate much enthusiasm — or many voters, for that matter.

But there’s a city council battle in Lakewood that is worth watching because of the unusual circumstances surrounding one of the candidates seeking to fill an open seat in Ward 3, (East Lakewood). Michael Bieda is a former State District Court Judge who lost his job in the 1994 election when voters elected NOT to retain him for another term.

If you’re not familiar with the process of retaining judges, let’s just put it this way: You’d have a better chance of finding someone to buy your solar eclipse glasses than you would of being ousted as a judge. Check out these statistics from the Colorado Office of Judicial Performance Evaluation:

Colorado voters elected to retain 1,312 of the 1,323 (99.2%) judicial officers standing for retention since 1990. [Pols emphasis] As shown in Table B, Colorado voters retained 99.7% of the judges receiving retain recommendations, 65% of those receiving do not retain recommendations, and retained all judicial officers where commissions offered no opinion.

Those are staggering numbers. Only 11 sitting judges have been kicked off the bench by voters in the last 27 years. Bieda is among those ignominious 11, and it didn’t take long for people to sour on him; Bieda was appointed to a District Judgeship in 1992 and was off the bench two years later. Bieda lost his job by 1,870 votes out of 126,216 votes cast in 1994.

Bieda served as a District Judge in the 18th Judicial District (Arapahoe County), where he took part in several notable cases, including the trial of Nathan Dunlap (the Chuck E. Cheese murderer). Bieda made enough waves behind the bench that he received a “Do Not Retain” recommendation from the Office of Judicial Performance prior to the 1994 election. Here’s what they said:

The Commission reviewed surveys and personally interviewed representatives from the criminal justice system. Most responses indicated that Judge Bieda has a poor courtroom demeanor, is arrogant, and has angry outbursts toward lawyers and parties. Judge Bieda received low ratings in his sensitivity toward witnesses and jurors. There are also responses that indicate that Judge Bieda is “unfair” in his treatment of women in his courtroom. The Commission is concerned that Judge Bieda’s hostile courtroom behavior has not improved over time nor has it changed with his transfer from the Domestic Division to the Criminal Division. Responses indicate that Judge Bieda has demonstrated an unwillingness to become proficient in his management of his criminal docket, and the handling of criminal cases. An additional concern to the Commission is the number of complaints alleging that Judge Bieda appears unprepared in his handling of criminal matters.

Bieda does address this issue on his campaign website, which you can read in full here. He says that he was targeted by attorneys who were upset that he didn’t let them charge more for their services, or something:

While sitting as judge, I created a pilot project to make the divorce forms with instructions easily available to those who did not want to hire a lawyer. This had never been done before. This project was so successful that the State Judicial Department adopted it and expanded it into the forms available today statewide through the state court system.

As you might expect, I was not popular with everyone, especially the domestic bar association. Because I helped people with the forms project, and because I insisted that the lawyers be prepared and efficient in their presentations, they were not able to charge their clients the outrageous fees they had been used to. Some of them organized a campaign against me when I came up for the election.

Because city council races are usually low-information, low-turnout affairs, it’s hard to gauge how much Bieda’s past will hurt his chances against opponent Michael Gifford. But getting kicked off the bench seems like a pretty tough negative for anyone to overcome.

4 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. Early WormEarly Worm says:

    I do not know Bieda and agree that it is a significant negative for a candidate to have received such a negative review from Office of Judicial Performance. But, I am a fan of Colorado's process for appointing and retaining judges. The fact that 99% of judges get retained needs a little more explanation.

    All judges have to go through a fairly rigorous (and mostly non-partisan) process in order to be appointed in the first place. 98% of undergrads at Harvard graduate. This is not because Harvard is easy. It is because the school self-selects for students that will be successful. 

    Also, judges are given their performance review recommendations months before those recommendations are published. Many judges, knowing that they are going to receive "Do No Retain" recommendations, retire or quit rather than face the ignominy of being voted off the bench. If you count resignations and retirements announced in the months preceding retention elections, Colorado's retention rate is probably closer to 95%.

    • NeonNurseNeonNurse says:

      Thanks for doing a great job of explaining this, especially the part about how many judges that learn they are going to get a 'Do Not Retain' choose to retire instead.

      I was on the Judicial Performance Commission for JD 15 for the max 8 years I was allowed. It's a fascinating (and indeed bipartisan) experience, and I highly recommend it to anyone who gets asked to be on one. This is real from-the-ground-up citizen involvement in action!


  2. FrankUnderwood says:

    So the Commission report included:  "There are also responses that indicate that Judge Bieda is 'unfair' in his treatment of women in his courtroom." 

    Perhaps President Trump will put him on the federal bench.

  3. spaceman65 says:

    He absolutely got what he deserved.  He was an awful judge

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