The moment police cited District Court Judge Lance Timbreza last week on suspicion of DUI and careless driving, one broad question was raised.
Personally, Timbreza's case will be handled by a special prosecutor brought in from the nearby 9th Judicial District, a fact confirmed this week by 9th Judicial District Attorney Jeff Cheney.
A guest judge will also need to be brought in to hear the case, as judges and prosecutors in the local 21st Judicial District face obvious conflicts with a Timbreza prosecution.
Professionally, the path forward for Timbreza is more complicated.
A spokesman for the Colorado Judicial Department described it as "step by step" in an email Friday.
"As motions for recusal are filed, they will be taken up and ruled on. Judge Timbreza will be the one to rule on those requests," wrote Rob McCallum, public information officer.
"If necessary, Chief Judge (Brian) Flynn can reassign Judge Timbreza to a specific docket, but that has not happened at this time."
Timbreza's criminal docket can often include investigators and officers with the Grand Junction Police Department, who cuffed and processed Timbreza on June 15.
Included in Timbreza's current caseload is the lengthy fraud and theft trial of former roofing company owner George Harris, a prosecution spurred by an indictment from the state grand jury.
On the Monday morning after the car crash that led to the police action, Timbreza addressed his situation with both prosecution and defense teams.
Each side said they were confident Timbreza could continue to fairly hear the Harris case. But concerns over continued media coverage have led to an unusual daily polling of the jury — by a judge other than Timbreza — about whether they've seen or read any articles related to anyone in the case.
FUTURE ON THE BENCH
The Colorado Commission on Judicial Discipline has oversight over judges, and it's that constitutionally recognized panel that would convene an investigation of Timbreza, but only if a conviction is entered against him.
According to rule 1.1 of the Colorado Code of Judicial Conduct, every judge is subject to the code itself and is required to report infractions of the law — including traffic offenses like DUI.
"We've learned about (the citations). We're aware of it. But if (Judge Timbreza) hasn't been convicted, he hasn't yet violated rule 1.1," said Bill Campbell, executive director of the commission. "We have to see how this plays out."
Campbell said Timbreza has to this point been "up front" about the incident.
"He called us and said, you know, I've been charged, I just want you to know about it — so we appreciate that," Campbell said.
While it's hard to predict specifics with regard to Timbreza's case — it's "up to the judge and the prosecutors to sort all of this stuff out," Campbell offered — the most likely result, compared to similar recent cases, would be private disciplinary action by the committee and not involve removal of Timbreza from the bench.
"A traffic offense is fairly routine — that doesn't mean it isn't serious — but the commission would handle it if and when there's a conviction," Campbell said. "(The commission) would review it, and they would have the option of issuing a private discipline — such as an admonition or private censure. They can also add conditions, such as certain types of training or reporting to us."
Campbell — without disclosing any case specifics — said he could only recall a few similar cases during his 10 years at the commission. In one, a deal was worked out in which the judge ended up without a DUI conviction on his or her record.
"The whole idea, the way this was set up was to be a constructive process, involving some sort of disciplinary action, but with constructive steps whenever possible to assist the judge in improving his or her conduct," Campbell explained about the 10-member commission, a rotation of attorneys, judges and ordinary citizens established in the state constitution more than 50 years ago.
Because of the constructive nature of the process, as well as for the protection of those who come forward with complaints, Colorado lawmakers ensured private resolution of disputes and investigations.
A Timbreza censure "would be private from our standpoint, but that doesn't mean the judge couldn't say something about it," the commission's Campbell noted.
Colorado voters ultimately decide who is fit to sit on the district court bench. Timbreza will face a retention vote six years from now, after being retained in his initial two-year provisional election in November last year.