June 8, 2007

County attorney finalist for judge slot

Tom Locke
Flume Editor

Park County's attorney, Stephen Groome, is one of three finalists chosen out of ten applicants to fill a fourth judgeship in the four-county Eleventh Judicial District.

The other two candidates are Brenda Lynn Jackson of Caņon City, who is the county attorney for Fremont County, and Ernest Marquez of Salida, a criminal defense attorney who represented former police lieutenant Ed Rasch in a harassment case in which Rasch was found guilty last August of two misdemeanors: harassment and official misconduct.

The judgeship would be based mostly in Fairplay, with the judge spending four days each week at the Park County Combined Court in Fairplay and one day in Caņon City, according to Groome.

Would he take the judgeship if offered?

"In a heartbeat," said Groome. "It's something I've wanted to do since I was in eighth grade."

The husband of his eighth-grade civics teacher in Jamestown, N.C., was a judge and he was inspired by the man. Groome was a farmboy who grew up in the country outside Greensborough, N.C.

Groome hopes his extensive experience in Park County, where he has been the county's attorney for the last four and a half years, will give him an edge in the selection process. He has lived in Conifer for about 20 years, and for the 15 years prior to his current position he was in private practice handling real estate, probate, landlord-tenant, land use, and other cases, mainly in Jefferson and Park counties.

He told the three Park County commissioners that he had applied.

"My reaction to that is that Stephen has been a tremendous asset to Park County, and I think he would make a fine judge," said Park County Commissioner Leni Walker. "I think he would be fabulous."

Groome understands rural issues and listens very closely to what others are saying, she said. "Because he has the rural experience, I think that will help him."

Groome makes $101,000-plus per year as an attorney for the county, which was initially a part-time job when Groome first assumed it about four years ago, said Walker.

If Groome gets the judgeship, she foresees finding someone to fill his county attorney position on an interim basis while the commissioners search for a long-term replacement. The judgeship starts July 1.

The process

He and nine other applicants were interviewed Friday, June 1, by a commission of seven people representing the four counties in the district: Park, Chaffee, Fremont and Custer. The State CourtAdministrator's Office issued a press release June 4 about the three finalists.

Governor Bill Ritter has 15 days from June 4 to appoint one of the nominees.

The three candidates will be interviewed by Ritter prior to that selection.

Groome said he has his Conifer house on the market and is looking for a house in Bailey, where he plans to move regardless of whether he becomes a judge. If he got the position, he wouldn't move to Fairplay because his twin seven-year-olds need to see a speech therapist in Lakewood and allergy doctors in Denver.

He said he can't think of any minuses to the judge position. He believes he would bring a good temperament and courtesy to the role.

"I think it's incumbent on a judge to foster an air of professionalism," he said. "In my over 30 years of practicing law, I can tell you that I've been in front of judges who are jerks."

He is unaffiliated with any party and doesn't know the affiliations of the other candidates or how party affiliations might affect their chances with Ritter, who is a Democrat.

"I'm not perfect and I've had a few people I've probably rubbed the wrong way," he said.

One of those is Michele Wayland, who lives in the Badger Creek Ranch subdivision in the southwest corner of Park County.

Her exposure to Groome has been through her complaints about violations of land use regulations by Tim Ricard. Complaints about Ricard's junk go all the way back to 1999, but his junk is still a problem. Wayland blames the persistence of the problem in part on Groome, charging that he lacked thoroughness and follow-through in the court case against Ricard.

She also complained that he was not good about returning phone calls.

But Groome said Ricard has received a one-year deferred sentence and he has until the end of summer or early fall to comply.

He also thinks he's taken the proper course in land use code enforcement through encouraging voluntary compliance.

"Most of the people that had the directive have come into substantial compliance or have worked on it," he said.

"Right now we're having a lot of success with having people voluntarily comply," he said.

Regardless of who is selected, Fairplay needs a judge devoting more time to cases in Park County.

Judge Barton from Salida is usually in Fairplay two days a week as it stands now, and that's not enough. The Park County courts are developing quite a backlog, Groome said.

Legislation creates post

The new judgeship was created through state legislation called House Bill 07-1054.

The Eleventh Judicial District Nominating Commission met in Caņon City on June 1 of this year to consider the new position. They whittled the candidates down to the three finalists.

Under the Colorado Constitution, the governor has 15 days from June 4 to appoint one of the nominees as district court judge for the Eleventh Judicial District.

Comments regarding any of the nominees may be sent via e-mail to the governor at judicial.appointments@state.co.us.

My Woodside Home Page1