Measure would add judge to judicial district

DENVER — An additional judge would be assigned to the 7th Judicial District to help deal with a dramatic increase in court cases under a bill approved in a Senate committee Wednesday.

A 2007 law that added 43 new judgeships to 15 of the state’s 22 judicial districts didn’t include the 7th Judicial District, which covers courts in Delta, Montrose and four other Western Slope counties.

But a 25 percent spike in court filings since 2006 has made it difficult for the four judges in the district to keep up with cases in front of them, said Sherry Stwalley, director of planning and analysis for the Colorado State Judicial Branch.

Because of a lack of state funds, however, there is no money to add a new judge. That’s why the measure, introduced by Sen. Gail Schwartz, takes one away from the 1st Judicial District, which covers Jefferson and Gilpin counties.

The Snowmass Village Democrat said it was easy for court officials to agree to the switch because the 1st District was slated to get three new judges under the 2007 law, but doesn’t have space in its courthouse to handle them all.

Under her bill, SB28, the Front Range court still would get a new district judge and a new county judge by next year, bringing its total judgeships to 14.

The fifth judge the 7th District would receive includes three additional court clerks, which pay up to $60,000 a year. District judges earn about $129,000 a year.

“The district right now is only about 60 percent staffed,” Stwalley told the Senate Judiciary Committee, which unanimously approved the measure. “This would take them to 70 percent. Jefferson County is already at 75 percent, and with their new judges will go to 80 percent.”

Stwalley said the need to add a judge in the Western Slope district outpaced initial expectations. It has experienced a 19 percent increase in population in the past two years, making it the fastest growing judicial district in the state, she said.

The district currently has the lowest staffing level of any court in the state.

As a result, a growing number of cases filed in the district are taking longer to resolve,  Stwalley said.

The measure, which also is being sponsored by Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, now goes to the full Senate for consideration.


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