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Home Courts Court of Appeals Protocols

This article provides an overview of the Colorado Court of Appeals: the people involved, how a case moves through the court, and other details about the court’s caseload and responsibilities.  Our values:



Who We Are

Judges and Staff

The Colorado Court of Appeals currently has twenty-two judges, including the Chief Judge.

When a judge position opens on the court, candidates apply; a judicial nominating commission reviews the applications, interviews candidates, and selects the top three candidates to send to the governor; and the governor appoints one of the three.

A judge’s appointment is for an initial term of two years, after which the judge will stand for a retention vote in the next general election. Before the election, a judicial performance commission will review the judge’s work, interview the judge, and suggest whether the judge’s performance meets the necessary standards. The people of Colorado then vote on retention in the general election. If retained, the judge will stand for a retention vote again every eight years and will undergo interim performance appraisals in the third and fifth years of that eight-year cycle.

The Chief Justice of the Colorado Supreme Court selects one judge to serve as the Chief Judge. The Chief Judge develops court policies, works on budget issues, manages facilities, and supervises all staff. The Chief Judge usually appoints a Deputy Chief Judge and may assemble an Executive Team to assist with the management of the court.

Each judge hires two law clerks, except that the Chief Judge hires one law clerk and one Counsel to the Chief Judge, who is responsible for training law clerks and generally serves on the Chief Judge’s Executive Team. Law clerks are usually hired for a period of one or two years, although some work with their judge indefinitely.

Several senior judges, who are former Supreme Court justices or Court of Appeals judges, also work for the court. The senior judges sit on cases with the Chief Judge or substitute for other judges who are recused or otherwise unable to participate in a case.

Clerk of the Court/Court Executive

As the court executive, the clerk of the court directs and provides for the administration of all aspects the court. The clerk of the court has a combined staff of thirteen employees. These employees make sure the court runs smoothly by receiving pleadings, issuing orders, announcing cases, managing dockets, and organizing case files. One of those staff members is a Self-Represented Litigant Coordinator, who provides assistance to self-represented litigants to facilitate access to the courts.

Reporters of Decisions

The court employs two Reporters of Decisions (or Assistant Reporters of Decisions), who are attorneys with excellent editorial skills. They report to the Chief Judge and are responsible for editing all the cases announced by the court, both published and unpublished.

Staff Attorneys

The court employs a Chief Staff Attorney, twenty-one other Staff Attorneys, and a small support staff.

Eighteen of the Staff Attorneys report to the Chief Staff Attorney and are attorneys who have developed a particular expertise in certain areas of appellate law. These attorneys, along with the Chief Staff Attorney, assist in drafting opinions, as more fully described below.

Three of the Staff Attorneys are designated as Motions and Jurisdiction Attorneys. These attorneys, who report to the Clerk of Court, review and rule on many routine motions and present more complex motions to one or three judges for resolution. They also screen cases to ensure the court has jurisdiction under section 13-4-102, C.R.S. 2022, and may issue orders to show cause directing the parties to address potential jurisdictional matters. When they issue such orders, they review any responses filed and present the matter to one or three judges for resolution.

In all, the court employs just over a hundred staff, including judges.


The court is located in the Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center, which opened in 2012.

Filing Statistics

Cases begin their life in the court when a party files a notice of appeal. Parties filed 2,250 new appeals in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2022, including 819 criminal appeals (including direct criminal appeals, appeals concerning postconviction motions, and other criminal appeals), 1,012 civil appeals (including domestic, agency, and other civil appeals), 74 Industrial Claim Appeals Office appeals (including unemployment and worker’s compensation appeals), and 345 juvenile appeals (including juvenile delinquent, dependency and neglect, and other juvenile appeals). The number of total filings is up more than 10% from the previous fiscal year.

Jurisdiction and Motions

After a party files a notice of appeal, the case moves through a few preliminary stages.

As noted, the Motions and Jurisdiction Attorneys screen new cases for jurisdictional issues and issue show cause orders where the court may lack jurisdiction over the case.

Parties also may file motions. Again, the Motions and Jurisdiction Attorneys review and process these motions for resolution.

A panel of three judges serves as a motions division and, with the assistance of the Motions and Jurisdiction Attorneys, decides any dispositive motions or dispositive matters following the issuance of a show cause order. The membership of this division rotates every month.

A separate division reviews petitions for interlocutory appeal under C.A.R. 4.2 and resolves those petitions with the assistance of the Motions and Jurisdiction Attorneys. Judges serve on the C.A.R. 4.2 division for a period of eighteen months, and their terms are generally staggered.

Recusal Review

Once a case is fully briefed, it becomes at issue. The clerk’s office circulates at-issue sheets to all judges. These sheets contain the case number; the names of the parties, attorneys, and participating trial court judges; and the court, agency, or tribunal from which the appeal originates. Each judge reviews the at-issue sheets to determine if the judge must recuse based on the Code of Judicial Conduct.

Divisional Nature of the Court

After a case has been checked to ensure the court has jurisdiction, any motions have been ruled on, and all the briefs have been filed, the clerk’s office randomly assigns it to a division.

A division is a three-judge panel that serves together for four months. The Chief Judge assigns these divisions, with the approval of the Chief Justice. § 13-4-106, C.R.S. 2022. The goal is to rotate assignments so that each judge sits with every other judge within a two-and-a-half to three year period.

All the divisions function independently from each other, similar to the way the federal circuits function in the federal system; however, the court is not authorized to sit en banc. Each division decides its cases in light of its own interpretation of binding and persuasive authority, without being bound by the decisions of another division. That is, although judges recognize the importance of deference to earlier decisions, each division may view the law differently and may issue a decision that conflicts with an earlier decision by another division. Conflict between division decisions is one reason the Colorado Supreme Court may grant certiorari. C.A.R. 49(c).

Case Assignments

General Case Assignments

As noted, the clerk’s office assigns cases randomly, without attempting to match cases with any particular division or judge. Because of this, judges see a wide variety of cases. The process of random selection helps to ensure that a diversity of ideas from the varied backgrounds of the judges will inform a division’s decision.

The most senior judge among the division members, based on the length of time each judge has served on the court, serves as the presiding judge. After cases are assigned to the division, the presiding judge makes assignments within the division and directs authorship of opinions; however, authorship is typically assigned on a random basis.

Staff Attorney Case Assignments

The Chief Staff Attorney reviews all cases filed and recommends to the Chief Judge that certain cases be assigned to Staff Attorneys. This recommendation is based on such factors as the level of difficulty of the issues in the case, the expertise of each Staff Attorney, and whether the case involves areas in which the law is settled.

Once assigned a case, the Staff Attorney reviews the briefs and the record, conducts appropriate research, and prepares a predisposition memorandum, or PDM. The case is then assigned to a division.


Each division meets in a regular setting about every two weeks to decide cases, which are assigned by the clerk’s office. The clerk’s office normally assigns seven cases for each regular setting, including three or four cases set for oral argument. The remaining cases are waived cases, meaning they are not set for oral argument. Of the seven cases, usually one is a Staff Attorney case, and the judges rotate who is assigned that case.

The clerk’s office schedules these settings about five to six weeks in advance. The clerk’s office notifies parties of the date set for oral argument and indicates how conflicts in scheduling are to be handled. The clerk’s office does not notify parties of the date waived cases will be set, although the waived cases are listed in the oral argument schedules posted on the court’s website.

In addition to the staff case assigned as part of the regular setting, the clerk’s office also sets staff settings about two or three times a month. In a staff setting, each judge on the division is assigned a case for which a Staff Attorney has drafted a tentative opinion. In total, a division is typically assigned six to nine of these staff cases per month.

The Chief Judge does not sit on a regular division but generally sits on special divisions with senior judges three weeks of the month. Each of these settings usually consists of three Staff Attorney cases. The Chief Judge often substitutes for recused judges on other divisions as well.

On occasion, judges may sit on other special divisions formed to assist the court in managing its heavy docket. Such a special division is generally assigned three cases, one for each judge.

Case Adjudication


For non-Staff Attorney cases, once a case arrives on the assigned judge’s desk, the judge prepares a PDM directed to the other two division members. The judge, with the assistance of the judge’s law clerks, drafts the PDM after reviewing the briefs, the pertinent law, and the relevant parts of the record and conducting independent research. Each chambers typically writes PDMs in draft opinion form with a proposed disposition of the case. Each judge is responsible for drafting two PDMs for each regular setting, and the authoring judge circulates the PDM to the other division members no later than the Friday before the scheduled setting.

For Staff Attorney cases, the Staff Attorney drafts the PDM before the case is assigned to a judge. The judge then prepares the case in a manner similar to that described above: reviewing the briefs, the pertinent law, and the relevant parts of the record, conducting independent research, and then reviewing and editing the Staff Attorney’s proposed draft. The judge then circulates the revised draft to the other division members for consideration.

When a case is set for oral argument, the PDM serves to provide insight and to focus questions for each division member. When oral argument is waived, the PDM serves a similar function for discussion in conference.

Between the regular and staff settings, each judge prepares about two to four PDMs every two weeks. Additionally, each judge is also responsible for reading the briefs, pertinent law, and relevant parts of the record in four or more cases assigned to the other two division judges every two weeks.

Oral Arguments

Judges generally look forward to oral argument; it is a chance to meet with attorneys and discuss the law.

Attorneys for either side may request oral argument. These requests are routinely granted, although the division may, in its discretion, deny such a request. The division also may order a case be orally argued, even though a party did not request oral argument.

Before oral argument, each judge usually formulates questions to ask the attorneys. In some cases, a division may send pre-argument questions to the attorneys.

Most oral arguments are held in person at the Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center. However, parties may file requests to conduct oral arguments remotely via Webex pursuant to the court’s remote oral argument policy, which is available on the court’s website.

The court consistently aims to make oral arguments more accessible to the public. The court streams oral arguments live. The link to watch the arguments is accessible from the court’s homepage. The court also archives the arguments so the public may watch them later. Oral arguments are archived on the Court’s website for at least five years.

Division Conference

On the day of a scheduled regular setting, usually immediately after oral arguments, the division meets in conference to discuss all the cases assigned for that setting, including both orally argued and waived cases. During their conference, the division members discuss their views on, comments about, and suggested edits to each of the PDMs. If the division reaches consensus on a case, they confirm authorship and the final version of the PDM, and the case continues towards announcement. If they cannot reach a consensus, the judges may decide to discuss it again at a later division conference. These cases may require additional research, further record review, additional edits, or supplemental discussion before the division reaches a decision.

All PDMs are tentative, as is authorship. The PDM may form the basis of the majority opinion. But it may represent a dissenting view if the other two judges disagree with it, in which case one of the remaining two division members will author the majority opinion. It is not uncommon for all division members to initially disagree with at least part of the PDM; in that event, the initial author judge may prepare one or more revised drafts before a draft is acceptable to and approved by the other members of the division.

Divisions also meet on the weeks in which they have staff attorney settings. Those are generally set for Wednesdays, although the division may meet on a different day.

Division conferences generally occur in person, although the judges may also confer and exchange edits and comments on PDMs by email. When a division meets, it will discuss cases from that setting as well as cases held over from prior division conferences and any other outstanding issues.

Editing by the Reporters of Decisions

After the division agrees on the draft opinion, they submit it to the Reporters of Decisions (or Assistant Reporters of Decisions), who review the draft for style, form, language, punctuation, and general readability. The Reporters (or Assistant Reporters) provide suggested edits, which the authoring judge reviews, considers, and generally incorporates into the draft. If the edits are substantive, the authoring judge discusses them with the other division members.

Cases Proposed for Publication

Why Publish?

During conference, the division may discuss whether a draft opinion warrants publication. Colorado Appellate Rule 35(e) provides that a case should be published when the opinion (1) establishes a new rule of law, alters or modifies an existing rule, or applies an established rule to novel facts; (2) involves a legal issue of continuing public interest; (3) directs attention to the shortcomings of existing common law or statutes; or (4) resolves an apparent conflict of authority.

If the opinion may merit publication, the author will indicate possible publication and state the grounds for publication when the judge circulates the PDM to the other division members. If the division agrees that the opinion warrants publication, the opinion will be circulated to the full court for a majority vote.

Full Court Review and Conference

A majority of the twenty-two judges reviews every draft opinion circulated for publication. Each reviewing judge submits a comment sheet to the authoring judge, indicating whether the reviewing judge votes to publish or not and noting any substantive comments on and suggested edits to the opinion. After the period for voting has concluded, the authoring judge circulates to all the judges on the court the vote count on publication and a response to any substantive comments received from the other judges.

Each judge has the power to call any draft opinion into conference. This means the judge can request a full discussion of the opinion at the full court conference based on the opinion’s content, based on the opinion’s apparent conflict with prior decisions, or for any other reason. Before full court conference, any judge calling a case into conference typically discusses the judge’s concerns with the author judge. At that time, the judges may discuss proposed changes, which, after further discussion with the other division members, may obviate the need for discussion at full court conference.

Any opinion receiving a majority vote for publication will be published unless it is withdrawn. The author judge and the rest of the division may, but need not, modify the opinion to take into account the suggestions of the reviewing judges and, if warranted, may recirculate the opinion to the full court for further review.

Unpublished Cases

Draft opinions that do not meet the requirements for publication are announced as unpublished cases. On average, about 90% or more of the court’s opinions are unpublished.


The court announces cases every Thursday. An announcement sheet issued every week and available on the court’s website lists which cases are published and which are unpublished, states the disposition of each case, and lists determinations on petitions for rehearing.

When the court announces an opinion, it provides copies of the opinion to all parties, the trial court or agency, the press, and the public. Opinions selected for official publication also are provided to West Publishing and The Colorado Lawyer and are available on the court’s website.

Petitions for Rehearing and Certiorari

After the court announces an opinion, the parties may petition for rehearing. Petitions for rehearing state whether a party believes the opinion misapprehended the law or facts of the case. The clerk’s office circulates a petition for rehearing to the authoring judge, who circulates it to the other division judges and generally makes a recommendation about the disposition of the petition. The division may grant the petition and withdraw the opinion, deny the petition, or deny the petition with minor modifications to the opinion.

After the Court of Appeals resolves a case, one or both parties may petition the Colorado Supreme Court to review the case. Historically, the Supreme Court only grants review in about 5% of these petitions.

Full Court Conference

All twenty-two judges on the court generally meet in a full court conference every other Thursday. During those meetings, the judges discuss any cases that have been called into full court conference, as well as other business matters and updates. The Chief Judge (or, in the Chief Judge’s absence, the Deputy Chief Judge) presides over the full court conference.


The workload of the court and of each judge on the court is significant. In the fiscal year ending June 30, 2022, the court resolved 2,405 cases, including 1,639 resolutions by written opinion, 697 dismissals due to settlement or lack of jurisdiction, and 69 case closures, consolidations with other cases, or transfers to the Colorado Supreme Court. Of the 1,639 opinions, 133 were published and 1,506 were unpublished.

In addition to being responsible for their own authored opinions, judges must review all the briefs, pertinent law, and pertinent parts of the record for each case in which they participate; conduct independent research; discuss the case; author dissenting or concurring opinions if necessary; read and comment on other division members’ opinions; and review the draft opinions proposed for publication.

The judges also strive to be informed of recent Colorado Supreme Court and United States Supreme Court opinions.

Extra-Judicial Activities

In addition to their judicial duties, the judges participate in numerous outside activities related to the legal system. These activities include participation in bar associations and giving frequent CLE lectures. A court of appeals judge also serves as the chair for nearly every Supreme Court rules committee.

Extended Community Outreach Program

In recent years, the court has made an effort to achieve greater transparency and engagement with Colorado communities. The vehicle for forming these connections is the extended outreach program. This program is made up of three initiatives: (1) district outreach, (2) Courts in the Community, and (3) Goldilocks trials.

District Outreach

There are both twenty-two judges and twenty-two judicial districts in Colorado. So each judge is assigned by the Chief Judge to one of these districts as a liaison. The judges try to visit their respective districts at least once per year to meet with the local judges, bar, administrative staff, and community.

Courts in the Community

As part of the Courts in the Community program, divisions hold oral arguments at high schools around the state and at the two law schools in Colorado. This affords students the opportunity to observe appellate arguments firsthand. In preparation for oral argument, the judges provide teachers with materials about the judicial system and the court. After the oral argument, students get an opportunity to ask the judges and the attorneys general questions about their careers.

Three to four times per year, Courts in the Community is held in conjunction with a judge’s district outreach visit. The division may spend up to a week in a district, holding oral arguments and visiting with the bench, bar, and community.

People v. Goldilocks Mock Trial

To introduce the youngest amongst us to the law, the division may conduct “Goldilocks trials” at local elementary schools. In this trial, the State has charged the defendant, Sarah Goldilocks, with trespass and theft. The students play the roles of attorneys, parties, witnesses, and judge, and they interact with judges from the division during this portion of a district outreach visit.


The court, in recognizing and valuing the importance of our judicial system, fosters a commitment to collegiality, excellence, integrity, and service. Through the hard work and dedication of every judge and staff member, the court has a long-standing reputation for implementing these principles.

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