Karen Romeo named new 5th Judicial District Judge | VailDaily.com

Karen Romeo named new 5th Judicial District Judge

Ashley Dickson
Summit County correspondent
Vail CO, Colorado
Mark Fox/Summit Daily NewsKaren Romeo was recently appointed a 5th Judicial District Judge by Gov. Bill Ritter, filling the vacancy left by retiring Judge David Lass.

SUMMIT COUNTY, Colorado ” Before she even finished law school, Karen Romeo knew she wanted someday to be a judge.

“I remember writing in my college journal: ‘Wouldn’t it be great to be a judge?’ And after that moment, it became my goal,” Romeo said.

Some 20 years later, Romeo is now the newly appointed district-court judge for the central mountain region and the first woman to ever hold the position in the 5th Judicial District.

“I feel so blessed to have this opportunity,” Romeo said this week. “I’m ready to work hard and do my best, but I understand that it takes months and years to really know and get good at this job.”

Romeo grew up in Littleton, and after graduating from the University of Colorado, she moved to Steamboat to work on the mountain’s ski-race crew.

But she had always been interested in studying law and, through a strange twist of fate, her employer at Steamboat happened to be the son of Gaspar Perricone, a district-court judge in Jefferson County.

After two years of manual labor at Steamboat, Romeo hit the books at the Thomas M. Cooley School of Law in Michigan. With her law degree in hand, she returned to Colorado, where highly coveted position was already waiting for her.

“My son spoke very highly of her, and I figured if she could work for him, she must be tough,” said Perricone, who is now retired. “She … became my law clerk and did an outstanding job.”

Perricone could see that his ambitious clerk was bound for bigger things, and after several years, he recommended that she pursue a career as a prosecutor.

“It seemed like he had figured out my new life path before I did,” Romeo said. “He was right. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else for 11 years.”

Romeo began in the district attorney’s office in 1997, working her way through the titles of chief deputy and assistant district attorney.

She worked closely with the Ending Violence Against Women program and trained other prosecutors and law-enforcement officers in handling domestic violence, sexual assault and juvenile law.

“Karen has a great knowledge of the law, and she was always up-to-date on the latest cases and statues,” district attorney Mark Hurlbert said. “As a prosecutor, she was very compassionate and had a great sense of people.”

In June, District Court Judge David Lass announced that he would be retiring, and Romeo jumped at the chance to be considered for the position, along with some 10 other applicants.

What made the opportunity even more significant was that it came on the heels of a very traumatic and life-changing experience.

“In May, I was misdiagnosed with ovarian cancer, and I thought my dream was going to disappear,” Romeo said. “Three months later, I was sitting across from Gov. Bill Ritter as one of the final three applicants for the position.”

Climbing the marble stairs to her interview at the capitol building, Romeo remembered the feeling of nervous excitement, knowing her lifelong dream was suddenly in reach.

After careful deliberation, Ritter chose her for the seat over two other local candidates.

“I’ve landed my dream job in a dream community, so I couldn’t be happier,” Romeo said. “I understand the awesome responsibility that comes with this job, and I have to trust that the governor appointed me for a reason.”

Just one month into her new career, Romeo already understands the stress associated with her new workload, and she makes it a point to keep herself balanced with early morning kayak trips on the Dillon Reservoir and afternoon walks down the bike path in Breckenridge.

“She’s a bright person, and she will continue to be herself which is the important thing,” Perricone said. “I wouldn’t give her any advice. She is already confident enough to handle it all.”

Ashley Dickson can be reached at (970) 668-4629, or at adickson@summitdaily.com.

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