McLimans gets nod as judge

Conflicts of interest could keep DA away from criminal cases for a year

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Gov. Bill Owens has named 14th Judicial District Attorney Paul McLimans to replace Judge Joel Thompson, while potential conflicts could mean the soon-to-be former prosecutor won't hear criminal cases this year.

"I expect to be presiding over civil cases for a while," said McLimans, who has worked 17 years in the 14th Judicial District Attorney's office.

Owens selected McLimans Friday over Steamboat Springs attorneys Gary Engle and J. Richard Tremaine.

"During the course of the selection process, I heard from a wide range of members of the community about McLimans' courage, integrity and excellent legal skills ... these qualities, combined with his exceptional intellect, will serve him well as District Court judge," according to a news release issued Friday by the governor's press office.

McLimans, who has 25 years experience as a prosecutor, was named district attorney in 1992 by then Gov. Roy Romer and won re-election three times. The Hot Sulpher Springs resident holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville and also is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin law school.

McLimans is president-elect of the Colorado District Attorney's Council, and served between 1996-2002 as board chairman of the Grand Futures Drug and Alcohol Abuse Prevention Coalition.

"I look forward to the opportunity this appointment presents," McLimans said.

Owens' selection also might present a scheduling challenge to the 14th Judicial District. Officials Friday were unclear as to what McLimans will actually be able to do when he starts in March.

As district attorney, McLimans' name appears on complaints filed against suspects in criminal cases, which in many cases are handled by his staff of deputy attorneys around the district covering Moffat, Routt and Grand counties.

McLimans might not be able to handle criminal matters until all existing cases move through the system, which could take up to a year, said Craig attorney Sandra Gardner.

"It's going to cost the state monies to bring in judges ... it will be a very challenging transition," Gardner said.

Evan Herman, administrator of the 14th Judicial District, said the district isn't looking at a judge shortage.

"We're in the process of sorting out how that's going to work," Herman said of McLimans' potential conflicts.

Doucette, although retired, will hear cases over the next three weeks as part of Colorado's "senior judge" program. The district could schedule more senior judges from around the state to work cases if needed, Herman said.

Senior judges work a limited number of days when and where needed around Colorado, and have individual contracts with the state's judicial branch, according to Karen Salaz, public information officer with the state court administrator's office.

Some 35 retired judges are in the program, she said.

The Colorado Judicial Branch -- with as many as 500 jobs statewide on the chopping block in budget cuts expected to be announced this month -- would pay senior judges to hear cases when and if called locally.

Meanwhile, McLimans said he will continue work as District Attorney for the next two months.

The governor will pick his successor, he said.

"They'll announce the vacancy, solicit applications and decide how many will be interviewed either by the governor or his staff," said McLimans, adding he would expect at least one applicant out of Moffat County.

"My support will be behind Bonnie (Roesink, deputy district attorney)," he said.

McLimans, who would have left office in two years with term limits, cited his prosecuting credentials in applying for the bench.

"I'm a law-and-order guy," he said. "You can certainly expect people in law enforcement to get a fair shake, but they're not going to get any shortcuts."

Craig attorney Rebekah A. McBride, who said she has had limited professional contact with McLimans, said district court judges can expect a steady diet of criminal, juvenile and domestic cases.

"It's nice to know he's had experience with criminal cases and knows what he's getting in to," McBride said.

McLimans initial term will cover two years. If retained by voters, he could serve another six years.

Deputy District Attorney David Waite was among 10 applicants who applied for Thompson's post. Craig's Gardner, along with attorneys Ronald Servis of Granby, Sue Ann Fitch of Grand Lake, and Ann Carey, Erick Nordstrom, Polly St. James of Steamboat Springs, all applied for the job.

The three finalists were forwarded Dec. 19 to the governor by a nominating commission made up of seven residents.

Thompson was voted out of office Nov. 5. He resigned the next day and officially left the job Sunday, nine days before his term was scheduled

to expire.

Paul Shockley can be reached at 824-7031 or at pshockley@craigdailypress.com.

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