June 21, 2007

Park County attorney named judge

Tom Locke
Flume Editor

Stephen Groome, the attorney for Park County, has been chosen to fill a new district court judgeship position for the Eleventh Judicial District, Gov. Bill Ritter's office announced Friday.

Brenda Lynn Jackson of Caņon City, the county attorney for Fremont County, and Ernest Frank Marquez of Salida, a criminal defense attorney, were the other two finalists for the job.

"I'm very excited about the opportunity to serve in this capacity. I really believe this is a position of trust," Groome said in a voice mail message. ""I will take it very seriously, work very hard and do my very best to make sure that anyone in my courtroom receives a fair hearing."

"I pledge I will be very diligent and look forward to serving the citizens of the Eleventh Judicial District," he added.

Park County Commissioner Doc McKay said the commissioners were sorry to lose Groome but were glad he had achieved his dream of becoming a judge. "He's done a good job for us, and I'm sure he'll do a good job for the district," he said.

Groome has not been without his critics, however.

Doug Windemuller, owner of Pine Junction-based The Douglas Company, said he had written a letter to the governor opposing Groome's appointment to the job. That opposition was based on his perception that Groome was arrogant and rude. He cited one instance in which Groome told him he couldn't talk to County Commissioner John Tighe "before he (Groome) knew what I was trying to talk to him about."

During the conversation, Groome announced the conversation was ended and hung up, said Windemuller. When he later asked Groome for an apology at a commissioners' meeting, Groome said nothing and walked away, according to Windemuller.

Groome could not be reached for comment regarding the allegations from Windemuller, which were later sent to all three commissioners in an April 10 e-mail.

Asked about Windemuller's accusations, McKay said he had never seen arrogance on the part of Groome. "I have never witnessed him being arrogant to anyone," he said. "He's usually very accommodating."

County Commissioner John Tighe also said he has not seen Groome act with arrogance. In any profession, he said, "You're going to have some people that oppose you."

"I think he's going to be a great district judge. He's got good common sense," Tighe said.

Another critic who also wrote a letter to the governor was George Porter, who copied The Flume on his letter. He noted Groome is a defendant in a $1 million lawsuit brought against the county by former Sheriff's Office employee Charles Caldwell, and criticized Groome's support for the Webber Park synopsis, which is a document involved in the lawsuit.

Groome has also been criticized by 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. She has criticized Groom for lack of follow-through and failure to return phone calls.

Tighe said that Groome has been conscientious in returning phone calls and that he has been more accessible to constituents than many county attorneys in other counties.

With respect to Wayland's criticisms, Groome responded a couple of weeks ago that Ricard has received a one-year deferred sentence, and he's taken the proper course in land use code enforcement by encouraging voluntary compliance.

Park County Commissioner Leni Walker voiced strong support for Groome after it was announced that he was one of three finalists in contention for the judgeship.

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

Asked about residency requirements for the judgeship, Wil Alston, deputy communications officer for the governor, said under the Colorado constitution Groome needed to be living within the district when the governor signed the executive order.

That signing was on June 14, and Groome told the governor's office that he was renting a place in Bailey at that time and thus fulfilled the residency requirement. When he was announced as a finalist for the job, he told The Flume he was planing to move to Bailey from Conifer regardless of whether he got the judgeship. Bailey is in the district and Conifer is not.

Groome has served as the county attorney in Park County since 2002. And from 1976 to 2002, he worked as a sole practitioner in private practice, as a staff attorney with the California Association of Realtors, and as in-house corporate counsel for a real estate investment and mortgage brokerage company in Newport Beach, Calif., said the press release.

He earned his bachelor's degree from the University of North Carolina in 1973 and his law degree from Southwestern University School of Law in 1976.

According to the press release from the governor's office,

the district covers Chaffee, Custer, Fremont and Park counties.

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 a week in Caņon City, Groome told The Flume about two weeks ago.

"It's something I've wanted to do since eighth grade," Groome said at the time.

The judgeship starts July 1.

Walker previously told The Flume if Groome was selected, she anticipated filling his county attorney position on an interim basis while the commissioners searched for a long-term replacement. She said Groome made $101,000-plus per year as county attorney. She expects a new county attorney will be paid between $93,000 and $103,000 per year.

The appointment was one of several by the governor that filled judicial positions created by House Bill 07-1054. The initial term of office is a provisional term of approximately two years, and if retained by the voters, a term of six years.

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