Moffat County judge finalists excited for the opportunity that lies ahead
Ryan Hess sits just six months away from completing his law degree. He might find himself behind a bench before that degree is complete though.
Hess, a City Councilman for the City of Craig and a Deputy Sheriff working in the Patrol Division for the Moffat County Sheriff’s Office, has been a self-proclaimed “legal junkie” since he was a child.
That love of the justice system led Hess to apply for the vacant county judge position following the surprise June 3 announcement that the Hon. Sandra Gardner will be retiring August 1. On July 1, Hess – along with Deputy District Attorney Brittany Schneider, and Steamboat’s Mariah Poole – was named a finalist for the position, which will be appointed by Gov. Jared Polis later this month.
“This is something I’ve always wanted to do,” Hess said. “I’ve studied the courts all of my life. A lot of the influence in my life comes from judges. I’ve been a legal junkie since I was 6 years old.
“It’s kind of serendipitous, honestly, so I’m glad that I was named a finalist.
One of the reasons I started Law school was to get a better legal foundation for my job in law enforcement, so when this became available I jumped at it.”
Throughout his career in law enforcement, Hess has interacted with a number of people within the court system that have urged him to go for the bench position, should it become available. So, when Hon. Gardner announced her retirement, Hess jumped at the chance to put his future law degree to the test.
“People said at some point I should go for it. That was about 6 years ago,” Hess said. “I thought about it for awhile, and then when I saw the position open up, I put my name into it. I’m six months out from being done with law school, so it’s kind of a perfect position to be in.”
Should Hess be appointed to the position, he would be forced to resign from City Council, opening up another vacancy within Council, and would also step away from the Sheriff’s Office for good.
For Mariah Poole, the announcement that she was a finalist for the position caught her by surprise, but the Steamboat Springs resident sees it as a chance to continue to make an impact in rural Colorado.
“I’m so excited. I was ecstatic to be named a finalist,” Poole said. “I’m new out of law school and I’ve passed the bar and am awaiting licensure. Even to be a finalist is an amazing accomplishment for me.
“I truly felt that this would be an amazing opportunity to help people in rural Colorado and to continue to provide access to justice for rural Colorado residents.”
Having just passed her bar exams, Poole sees the role as a county judge as an opportunity to make some positive impacts in rural Colorado. Having grown up in Rio Blanco County before moving to Routt County, Poole is looking forward to the chance to create some positive change within the court system.
“I believe that County court is the place where most people who encounter the legal system are going to do so in county court, so I wanted to make sure that situation is respectful and fair and timely and impartial to every litigant that comes through that door,” Poole said.
Schneider is very family with the court system, having served as Deputy District Attorney in the 14th Judicial District for many years. That experience, she hopes, helps her land the vacant bench job.
“Because the governor’s decision process is ongoing, I do not feel it is appropriate to comment at this time, beyond saying that as an attorney licensed to practice law for 8 years, I am honored to be considered for a position on the bench, and am thrilled and humbled that I may have the opportunity to serve the Moffat County Community in that capacity,” Schneider said in a statement to the Craig Press.
Gov. Polis has until July 17 to appoint one of the three finalists to the vacant position. The annual salary for this position is $107,766, and it is a 65 percent position. The initial term of office of a county judge is a provisional term of two years; thereafter, the incumbent county judge, if approved by the voters, has a term of four years.
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Moffat County Sheriff KC Hume saw it as a win-win situation.