‘Storming the Bench’ Offers Insider View of Judicial Nominations
CWBA event encourages more diversity on the bench by demystifying the process

by Jessica Folker
Jacki Cooper Melmed and Colorado Supreme Court Justice Melissa Hart

A crowd of mostly women packed a big conference room at Polsinelli on Feb. 26 to learn what it takes to become a judge. Some had serious judicial ambitions while others were just casually curious about the application and nomination process.

“Storming the Bench,” a Colorado Women’s Bar Association event, aimed to encourage more women, people of color and members of other underrepresented groups to apply for judgeships. But one point the panelists drove home was that most who apply will never don the black robe. That shouldn’t dissuade anybody though, according to the speakers.

“If this is what you want to do, you have to just keep trying,” said Colorado Supreme Court Justice Melissa Hart during a breakout session on endorsements and interviewing with the Governor’s Office.

During the keynote speech, Jacki Cooper Melmed, chief legal counsel for Gov. Jared Polis, made similar remarks. “Chances are you won’t get the spot, but keep trying anyway,” she said. In the meantime, she added, it’s important to encourage diversity at all stages of the pipeline, from law schools to judicial nominating commissions.

Cooper Melmed said that, for many citizens, a traffic ticket or small claims civil action in county court is the only interaction they’ll have with the government, “and we want that government to serve them and to serve them well.” When people see themselves represented on the bench, she said, it gives them more faith in the fairness of our institutions.

Cooper Melmed touted Polis’ commitment to diversity in the courts, citing statistics on the governor’s judicial appointments so far. Polis has made 39 judicial appointments in his 13 months in office, 60% of them women and about a quarter of them minorities, she said.

To read this and other complete articles featured in the March 2, 2020 print edition of Law Week Colorado, copies are available for purchase online.