Mary Mullarkey retirement: Clear the Bench's Matt Arnold says pressure's driving her out

mary mullarkey photo.jpeg
Mary Mullarkey will leave the bench in November.
During yesterday's announcement about her intention to retire in November, Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Mary Mullarkey said a vigorous campaign against her and three other justices had nothing to do with her decision.

That's Mullarkey malarkey, counters Matt Arnold of ClearTheBenchColorado.org, the organization spearheading the Supreme crusade.

"Any claim that this has nothing to do with my campaign is whistling in the wind," Arnold says.

Arnold's efforts to get Mullarkey and fellow justices Michael Bender, Alex Martinez and Nancy Rice voted off the state's highest court got a boost in January after Colorado Attorney General John Suthers was quoted as suggesting that he might not support three of the four (he excluded Rice).

Since then, ClearTheBenchColorado.org's momentum has accelerated, as have efforts that Arnold sees as targeting him. First, Colorado Ethics Watch lodged a campaign-finance complaint against Arnold's project. Then, a group led by attorney Mark Grueskin formed the Colorado Judicial Project, an organization devoted to educating the public about the best way to judge judges.

While CJP takes issue with ClearTheBenchColorado.org's vote-'em-out rhetoric, there's no denying that Arnold's message is having an impact. But did it cause Mullarkey to surrender despite her insistence that factors like a new grandchild and her husband's retirement motivated her decision?

Yes, Arnold believes. "It's very clear she decided to step down because she knew she was facing a very tough retention election and would very likely be voted down -- and she would go down in history as the first chief justice in the history of Colorado to be rejected by the voters. The writing was on the wall."

In some ways, however, Arnold was disappointed by Mullarkey's move.

"I think it's important for voters to get involved," he says. "If they step down, that's obviously their decision. But it's important for citizens to get engaged in this and realize how important it is. We not only have the right, but the duty and the responsibility to hold all officials accountable to their oath of office, whether they're elected or appointed.

"Obviously, the preference is that the voters exercise their responsibilities and reject these people on the grounds that they're not following the constitution. But it's of great benefit for the citizens of the state for these anti-constitutionalist justices to leave the bench by whatever legal means, whether it's retirement or being voted out."

Since Mullarkey's announcement, Arnold says he's gotten "a great response" from donors. Still, he's concerned that having her out of the picture will "make some people think it's time to declare victory and go home."

He'd rather voters look at the situation as "one down, three to go. Mullarkey was the worst of the lot, and she certainly focused a lot of attention. But we have to finish the job of clearing the bench."

To put it mildly, Arnold isn't sentimental about Mullarkey's forthcoming exit. "There have been typical political speeches thanking her for her years of service and that kind of stuff," he notes. Indeed, one such statement was delivered by none other than AG John Suthers; see it below.

"Being a military guy, I understand that you always say nice things about people on their way out," Arnold continues. "But longevity of service doesn't equal achievement. I think we need to look back on what she's actually done in the state. And when you do that, you see it's a net win for the people of Colorado that Justice Mullarkey will no longer be rewriting the constitution from the bench."

Here's Suthers's statement:

Attorney General praises Chief Justice Mary Mullarkey as a distinguished public servant

DENVER -- Colorado Attorney General John Suthers released the following statement today about Chief Justice Mary Mullarkey's announcement that she will step down from the Colorado Supreme Court.

"Chief Justice Mullarkey has served the state of Colorado with distinction both on the court and during her time with the Colorado Attorney General's Office," Suthers said. "While we have not agreed on every issue, I salute the dedication of the Chief Justice to public service and her work to make the judicial system in Colorado more accessible and open to the public, such as through the Court in the Community Program. She also has done outstanding work in making the Ralph L. Carr Justice Center a reality."

Mullarkey served as the head of the Office of the Attorney General's appellate section under Attorney General J.D. MacFarlane. She later served as Colorado Solicitor General.

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