June 21, 2007

Park County attorney robes up for new role as district court judge
By Pamela Lawson

Park County Attorney Steve Groome was in middle school when he asked his civics teacher if he could visit her home and meet her husband, who was a district court judge.

Judge Ed Washington served Guilford County in Groome’s home state of North Carolina in those days.

The young Groome was passionate about law, even then, hoping to become a lawyer and, in his wildest dreams, a district judge like Washington.

Those memories have been especially fresh lately for Groome, who was appointed June 14 by Gov. Bill Ritter to serve as a judge for the 11th Judicial District.

“I am still stunned; I am just so excited. It is something that really has been a dream of mine since the eighth grade,” Groome said.

Groome learned of the opportunity May 8, after a legislative bill was passed in April to create new judgeships throughout the state to handle a backlog of cases for the next three years. Nine of those new positions will begin July 1, including Groome’s appointment when he is sworn in Monday, July 2, in Fairplay.

Eleventh District Judge Charles Barton, who is in charge of assigning cases in a four-county area, is able to travel to Fairplay only about twice a week to handle the workload, and more time is needed, Groome said.

Groome will be handling district court business four days a week in Fairplay and possibly traveling to Canon City one day a week, he said.

Everything has happened so quickly that Groome is still processing the details.

When he learned of the opportunity, he had about 13 days to complete the comprehensive application, including compiling letters of recommendation. Then, because he must live in the county he serves, he found a rental property and moved there from his Conifer home.

“This happened so fast — it was just boom, boom, boom!” he said. “We have been talking about moving to Bailey for a long time, in a leisurely manner.”

The first interviews were June 1. The seven-panel commission included attorneys and citizens, and a Colorado Supreme Court justice coordinated the interview, Groome said.

“You are checked out by the Supreme Court, by the CBI and legal (staff) at the governor’s office,” Groome said.

The three finalists were interviewed by Ritter on June 8, and Groome got word that he had received the appointment on June 14.

For the last week, he has been scrambling to tie up lose ends for Park County, where he has served as county attorney for more than four years. He also served as a public information officer after the hostage takeover at Platte Canyon High School, and he is the backup emergency manager for the county.

Groome said his extensive experience in Park County might have helped him to secure the appointment.

“Since this seat is going to be primarily here, it was a logical fit,” he said.

Groome informed Park County commissioners of his plans ahead of time, and he said and they were supportive of the decision to apply for the position.

They have already posted the county attorney job, and they have can contract with attorneys until the right candidate is found.

Groome has practiced law for 31 years, a portion of that time in California before moving to Colorado about 20 years ago. He had a private practice for 15 years in the Conifer area before accepting the Park County position.

“I grew up in North Carolina but wanted to ‘Go West, young man,’ and why not if it was a great adventure?” he said. “(California) was a great place to learn the law because of the cutting-edge litigation.”

But one year when he visited Colorado on a camping trip, he didn’t want to leave. He was at a point in his life where he wanted his career and lifestyle choices to coincide, and two months later he was living here.

Groome was a volunteer firefighter for about 11 years with the Elk Creek Fire District before retiring. That’s where he met his wife, Cathie, who was district administrator. He has two older sons by a previous marriage, and he and Cathie have twin boys, Michael and Gabriel, who will be entering the first grade this fall.

Since his appointment, Groome’s life has been going at “warp speed.” (He must still juggle his time between his rental residence in Bailey and the home in Conifer, where he reads bedtime stories to his boys, until that house is packed up and sold and they buy a permanent one in his jurisdiction.)

But there have been a few perks along the way: His wife and sons were thrilled that they got to chat with the governor, he said.

Groome is eager to meet with Judge Barton because he believes he has “a lot to learn” to fulfill his new role.

“It was just totally out of the blue that this opportunity arose,” he said. “I decided if I didn’t go for this, I would lose my opportunity to fulfill my dream — so I went for it.”

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