No Judge Bean

Experienced lawyer takes over as county court judge

General advisements, traffic infractions, misdemeanors, a few felonies here and there.

This is the world Sandra H. Gardner, the new Moffat County Court judge, wanted to be in. She got what she wanted Tuesday when she presided over her first case.

According to the court docket, Gardner presided over 25 court cases on her first day, cases ranging from bond appearances to sentencing hearings.

And that was before noon.

"I was actually told it was going to be a light day," said Gardner, an area attorney for 15 years. "I was anticipating a lot would be thrown at me and a lot was thrown at me."

But, she added, "Today was the first day and I decided there will be another."

In September 2006, Gov. Bill Owens appointed Gardner, 43, of Craig, to replace the retiring Mary Lynne James, who stepped down after 22 years on the bench.

Gardner, a Steamboat Springs native and 1991 graduate of Emory Law School in Atlanta, Ga., returned to her native Colorado after graduation and began work in private practice with a Steamboat law firm, handling civil and criminal cases. In 1996, she opened an office in Steamboat.

Five years later, she moved her practice to Craig, opening an office on Taylor Street. Throughout the years, she has had her sights set on becoming a judge.

"The truth is I've had judicial aspirations for a few years now," Gardner said.

When James announced her retirement, creating a vacancy for Moffat County Court, Gardner said she became concerned that someone unqualified would land the job. After all, requirements for being a county court judge were limited.

Applicants must be residents of Moffat County and have at least a general equivalence diploma. Unlike district court judges, county court jurists are not required to have a law degree.

"Judge (Roy) Bean wouldn't be appropriate anymore," Gardner said of the legendary, untrained, Old West jurist. "I think it would be impossible."

In Owens' announcement of Gardner's appointment, the governor said she had the "necessary legal experience and temperament to serve" as a county court judge.

Gardner said she was grateful that people were patient in court Tuesday.

"The people were very understanding," she said. "It's going to take a little while to get my feet underneath me. There is a lot to this job.

"I genuinely thank everybody who appeared in front of me today and the court staff for making my first day so comfortable."

The provisional term for a county court judge is two years. Gardner's work will then be reviewed by a judicial performance board, which will recommend whether she be retained.

Her name would then appear on the November 2009 ballot and, if approved for retention by voters, she would serve an additional four-year term.

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