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District 5 judge finalists have been selected

Fifth Judicial District Judge Russell Granger will be retiring Nov. 1. Anticipating the bench opening following his retirement, Colorado’s Judicial Department has posted a call for applications to the position. Having completed interviews and other procedures with qualified applicants, the Fifth Judicial District nomination commission met Friday to select the finalists to be nominated to Gov. Jared Polis for appointment. 

According to the Colorado Office of Judicial Performance Evaluation, Granger served within the Fifth Judicial District since 1998, when he first sat on the Clear Creek County bench. In 2006, Granger was appointed to the District Court bench, where he has worked within Eagle County since. In the 2020 Retention Survey Report on Granger’s performance, it was noted that Granger is “proficient at complex trials” and advocates for out-of-courtroom solutions to problems. Forty-one written evaluations, including 39 completed by attorneys, evaluated Granger on various aspects of his performance. 

“The survey results found that Judge Granger meets performance standards, higher than the 83% rating for all district judges,” the evaluation read. “Judge Granger scores slightly higher than the average for all district judges on case management. The commission noted that Judge Granger scored lower than average for all other district judges in fairness; however, there were multiple survey respondents who praised him for his fairness. Granger noted that fairness is important to him in his work on the bench. He stated that he recognizes that people in court need to be heard and understood and he works to provide that for each person who appears before him.”

Following in Granger’s footsteps, the incoming Fifth Judicial District judge will also be faced with balancing sides in a trial.

The Colorado Judicial Department on Oct. 11 released the names of three candidates the nominating commission chose to move forward in the appointment process. Inga Causey of Gypsum, Courtney Holm of Edwards and Rachel Olguin-Fresquez of Gypsum were selected to be the candidates Polis will evaluate and eventually choose from to sit on the district court bench following Granger. 

Causey explained that like Granger, she believes a district court judge needs to prioritize effective listening in order to make fair decisions. 

“Over the years, you sometimes see judges that are worn down, that are fatigued and oftentimes, they stop listening to the people before them,” Causey said. “I believe that as a judge, we are here to serve the community. We are here to serve others and that mandates serving with compassion, empathy, creativity and resourcefulness.”

Causey, like the position’s other nominees, has deep roots within the counties that make up the Fifth Judicial District. She noted that this kind of community connection is essential to a better understanding of issues presented and resources available to make decisions. 

“When you understand the heartbeat of a community, you’re better able to serve that community,” Causey said. 

Causey is currently the town prosecutor of Vail, a magistrate judge for the 13th judicial district, a deputy judge for Minturn, an associate judge for De Beque and a partner at Causey & Howard Attorneys and Counselors at Law. She said she believes her background in law qualifies her to fill Granger’s position. Along with her 20-plus years of experience, Causey shared that her passion for what she does is tethered to her every move in the courtroom. 

She described how this sentiment was inspired, telling a story about how she was tasked with representing an entire Louisiana parish while a third-year law student.

“I walk into the courtroom and it is packed,” Causey said. “It’s full of TV and news and I see people in the community are just wall-to-wall. I’m terrified. I’m thinking, ‘oh my gosh, this entire parish is depending on a law student to help them.’ I started walking to the podium to give my oral argument and I was nervous; my voice was shaking and my ears get hot when I get nervous. But behind me, this community, with each sentence, I would hear their words of encouragement. ‘That’s right,’ ‘you tell it,’ those kinds of things. At that point, I knew that what we did matters and that our work is meant to serve others. I wanted to carry that with me today and I will keep that perspective on the bench.”

Per the Colorado Constitution, Polis has 15 days following the nominations on Oct. 10 to select the new Fifth Judicial District judge. 

Depending on who Polis appoints to the position, the future of the seat is up to the candidate’s available start date. Robert McCallum, Public Information Officer at Colorado’s judicial department, explained that the selected candidate may need to wrap up a private practice as well as personal affairs before moving to serve on the bench. Because of this, the judgeship may be temporarily filled until the incoming judge is able to take the seat. 

McCallum also explained that a start date before Election Day results in a difference in initial term length compared to a start date after midterms. 

“If this person started on Nov. 1, in two years they would be eligible to stand for retention again, because it would be prior to the next election,” McCallum said. “If the person started, say Nov. 15, after this year’s general election, that person would actually have to wait four years to sit for the provision because there wouldn’t be an election cycle.”

Colorado judges are appointed, but voters can remove them at a general election.

The two-year window around elections is given to those at the beginning of their judgeship before a retention evaluation for judges to get their footing and tackle the new-position learning curve, McCallum explained. 

“It’s a big job to take the bench and be a judge,” McCallum said. 

One person wounded, suspect arrested in Glenwood Springs shooting

A suspect was arrested and another person was transported to the hospital with a gunshot wound after multiple law enforcement agencies responded to an active shooter situation in Glenwood Springs on Thursday morning, a Garfield County Sheriff’s Office news release states.

The Glenwood Springs Police Departments responded to multiple shots fired at a residence near the intersection of 10th Street and Riverview Drive shortly before 11 a.m.

The person injured by gunshot was recovered from the scene and taken to Valley View Hospital to be treated. A female was also able to exit the residence safely, the release states.

Multiple law enforcement agencies responded to the scene of an active shooter near 10th and Riverview in Glenwood Springs on Thursday.
Provided by Glenwood Springs Police Department

After more than an hour, negotiators with the Glenwood Springs Police Department and Garfield County Sheriff’s Office talked the suspect out of the residence around 12:41 p.m., the release states. The suspect was taken into custody and officers continued their investigation in the area Thursday.

An ensuing stay-at-home order was issued in response and was lifted Thursday afternoon.

Responding agencies included the Colorado State Patrol, the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office surrounding police departments and the Glenwood Springs Fire Department. The Garfield County All Hazards team responded with a BearCat armored vehicle while Eagle County also provided a defense vehicle, the release states.

Paul Dunkelman, chief judge of the 5th Judicial District, is ready to make an impact in new role

Paul Dunkelman gives a speech Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021, at the Colorado Judicial Institute’s 2021 Judicial Excellence for Colorado awards dinner. Dunkelman was a district court judge when he received the award but in February, he was named chief judge.
Cara Dunkelman/Courtesy photo

Paul Dunkelman stepped into the role of chief judge as an interim position after former Chief Judge Mark Thompson was placed on administrative leave in October. Now that Dunkelman has officially been named to the position for the 5th Judicial District he’s ready to continue leading the district in providing equitable access to justice so community members have confidence in their legal system.

Dunkelman got his start in the legal field when he attended Colgate University in Hamilton, New York, where he earned a bachelor’s in economics and political science. He officially made the jump to Colorado when he earned his Juris Doctor from Sturm College of Law at the University of Denver in 1993.

Shortly thereafter, Dunkelman moved to Frisco where he opened a practice with two other attorneys, Ron and Judy Carlson. During this time, the trio practiced criminal law, domestic relations and civil law. The firm, named Carlson, Carlson & Dunkelman, LLC, was where Dunkelman said he first experienced the true reward of working in this field.

“I (think) most of the cases we handle are good people going through the worst time in their lives, and when you help them through that, at the end of the that, (whether) they say thank you, don’t say thank you, that’s not the issue, but they sort of appreciate and understand that you helped them through the most difficult time in their life,” he said.

Dunkelman said this feedback, whether positive of negative, is something that sticks with him long into the future. One such comment occurred after he had been appointed district court judge in 2013. Dunkelman said shortly after being appointed as a judge, he was overseeing a divorce case that was emotional and stressful to each party.

“I thought I’d explained the process well to them, I thought they understood the process … After I made my ruling, the wife asked me when she got her chance to explain her side of the story,” Dunkelman said. “It didn’t affect the ruling, the issues were limited, but it affected her confidence in my decision that she didn’t think she was heard, and it was upsetting to me and really eye opening to me.”

There are others Dunkelman said he’s had the chance to learn from, including his former partners, Ron and Judy Carlson; former District Court Judge David Lass; and Summit County Court Judge Edward Casias.

Michael Pisciotta, court executive for the 5th Judicial District, has worked with Dunkelman for seven years. Pisciotta noted one example of Dunkelman’s character from his time as a district court judge. During the pandemic, many courts put their dockets on hold, but there was one high-profile murder case Dunkelman oversaw where he took extra measures and precautions so the trial could move forward safely and efficiently. For this work, Dunkelman was selected the Colorado Judicial Institute’s district court judge of the year in 2021.

“In my seven years, we hadn’t had a 5th District judge that had received that type of an award and it was very well deserved because he was courageous enough to move forward and smart enough and wise enough to implement as many precautions as we could to protect the public,” Pisciotta said.

Though Dunkelman stepped into the role of chief judge at a difficult time for the court, he said the role of chief judge was already on his radar and something he was interested in pursuing. As chief judge, he is still responsible for a full docket, but now his role is to oversee the administration of the 5th Judicial District, which serves Clear Creek, Eagle, Lake and Summit counties. This means overseeing personnel and the budget, but it also means meeting with stakeholders and being accessible to the community.

With a few months under his belt already, Dunkelman said he’s not interested in making any major changes immediately. Instead, he’s interested in focusing on ways the court system can better provide access to needed services.

“I want to continue to be innovative in how we provide access to justice to all parties, regardless of whether you can afford an attorney, not afford an attorney, whatever your role is and whatever your issue is that we provide a means to access the court system,” Dunkelman said.

Vail police arrest four for burglary, stolen vehicles

The Vail Police Department arrested four men involved in two linked cases of stolen vehicles Tuesday and Wednesday.

Police responded to a report Tuesday night that a black electric scooter had been stolen from Ski & Snowboard Club Vail on the 500 block of Vail Valley Drive, according to a press release sent Wednesday.

The scooter was parked outside of a garage when it was stolen by suspects driving a white rental van who were later located on surveillance video, according to the release.

Later that night, police found the occupied van on the top deck of the Lionshead parking structure with the stolen scooter inside.

As a result, Matthew Curtis, 41, and Michael Russo, 28, were charged with second-degree burglary, theft and conspiracy to commit a felony.

Russo was also charged with four counts of criminal possession of a financial device after police found that he had credit cards that were not in his name, according to the release.

This incident ultimately led to the arrest of two more men who were there that night.

A blue-green pickup truck that was reportedly stolen from Silverthorne was seen in the same area of the scooter theft Tuesday, but the driver fled before police could investigate further, according to the release.

Police located the stolen truck at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday driving through the main Vail roundabout and began following the vehicle as it traveled westbound on Interstate 70 before exiting at West Vail.

The driver of the truck refused to pull over.

Officers established a perimeter around the West Vail neighborhood and, ultimately, found the truck abandoned at the end of Garmisch Drive.

With the assistance of Avon Police, the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office and multiple calls from the public with information on the suspects, Vail Police Officers found both men that were in the stolen truck, according to the release. The men were located separately, on foot.

The two men, Logan Lancaster, 24, and Jordan Ray Butler, 33, were arrested on multiple warrants stemming from cases on the Front Range, including warrants for failure to appear in court as well as charges that include theft, shoplifting, probation violations and trespassing.

The pair face several new charges and investigators are working with the Silverthorne Police Department to bring additional charges of burglaries, thefts and criminal possession of financial devices, according to the release.

Anyone with information about this incident is encouraged to message Vail Police on Facebook or contact Sergeant Justin Liffick at jliffick@vailgov.com or 970-479-2200.

Out on bond, Flores charged with misdemeanor, six new felony charges

EAGLE — A 20-year-old Gypsum man already faces 18 felony charges spread out over multiple Colorado counties for allegedly writing about $728,000 in bad checks to steal a variety of cars, trucks, trailers, ATVs and snowmobiles from their owners last year.

He’s now facing one new misdemeanor and six new felony charges.

Jesse Flores has been charged with various combinations of motor vehicle theft, theft, fraud by check and forgery, all felonies, in Eagle, Chaffee, Grand, Mesa, Routt and Summit counties.

Prosecutors this week filed a new misdemeanor charge of cybercrime to scheme or defraud against Flores as well as six new felony charges for violation of bail bond conditions — one for each county where he is facing charges. The bond violation charges are punishable by 12-18 months in state prison.

According to prosecutors, the seven new criminal charges stem from the online sale of a hunting bow sale that went wrong in February. Flores was allegedly trying to sell a compound hunting bow on the internet and then failed to ship the bow or refund $775 in payment to a West Virginia man, even after a deputy started to investigate and made contact with Flores, according to an Eagle County Sheriff’s Office affidavit.

Promised the bow as well as $800 back for his trouble, the West Virginia man never got either, according to the affidavit. Instead, the man reportedly got a package containing a torn white envelope, with no cash or money order inside, but an apology letter from Flores.

“Dear Dave, I apologize for the issues that have come up with this bow. It is an amazing bow and I hope you enjoy it a lot. Within this package is the money order for $800. Please keep the money and the bow for your time. Sincerely, Jesse Flores,” the letter stated, according to the police affidavit. Flores reportedly maintained that he sent the man $800 in $50 bills as well as the bow, though he never provided police with a tracking number for the items.

Flores was advised of the new charges against him Tuesday in Eagle County Court.

In his other pending vehicle theft and check fraud cases, prosecutors allege that Flores wrote bad checks to buy vehicles and use them for as long as he could string along their sellers, and would later return the vehicles, some of them with damage, as law enforcement got involved.

Prosecutors said they have found evidence of about $728,000 in fraudulent checks and $50,000 in vehicle damages in total.

“We are aware of what is going on in all the other cases, and we are in contact with all the other jurisdictions and continue to work with them,” said Heidi McCollum, the district attorney for Colorado’s 5th Judicial District, which spans Clear Creek, Eagle, Lake and Summit counties.

Flores is next scheduled to appear in court in Eagle County on March 31; in Chaffee County on April 14; in Grand County on March 29; in Mesa County on March 25; in Routt County on March 23; and in Summit County on March 29.