Colorado’s municipal courts have for years operated like islands — each town with its own rules and its own system for keeping track of court cases, separate from the system for the state’s county and district courts.
But a bill advancing through the state legislature might build bridges between those islands. Colorado lawmakers want to create a task force to examine how to share data between municipal courts and the state’s county and district courts.
“We have a real lack of any kind of interface between our 215 municipal courts and the statewide court data system,” said Rep. Marc Snyder, a Democrat representing El Paso and Teller counties who is one of the sponsors of HB23-1132. “And it’s come to my attention that it’s a real problem.”
The bill, which passed the Colorado House of Representatives on Monday and is next headed to the Senate, would bring together state and local officials in a task force to study the issue for at least six months before presenting findings to lawmakers in January 2024. It would also give the Colorado Judicial Department $115,000 to hire an analyst to support the task force’s work.
Connecting municipal courts to each other and to state and county courts would make it easier for judges, defense attorneys and prosecutors to check defendants’ criminal histories, review bond and probation conditions, and ultimately make better-informed decisions in cases, said Shawn Day, presiding judge of Aurora Municipal Court.
“Right now, there’s a lot of time, effort and inefficiency in the non-sharing of information between municipal courts and state courts,” he said. “So (the bill is) really just to get the task force set up and see if it’s doable, and if there’s an appetite for it.”
Municipal courts are the lowest-level courts in Colorado, and handle municipal code violations like traffic violations, shoplifting charges, disturbances and some domestic violence cases. District and county courts handle violations of state law.
The Colorado Judicial Department does not oppose the bill, legislative liaison Terry Scanlon said.
“To the extent the General Assembly wants to have our state court system have improved sharing of information with municipal courts, we are happy to look at what that would take,” he said. “This task force will study what that would look like, what it would cost and how it would work. That’s a reasonable and smart conversation to have.”
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