Oak Creek police chief opposes county judge appointment
Appointee says complaints do not represent her work
Editor’s note: This story have been updated to correct the spelling of Routt County Assistant District Attorney Matthew Tjosvold’s name.
One of the three police chiefs in Routt County is speaking out against the appointment of Erin Wilson as Routt County Court Judge, alleging that his previous experiences working with her should have disqualified her from the job.
Ralph Maher, chief of the Oak Creek Police Department, submitted a letter to the 14th Judicial District’s Nominating Commission in January outlining his concerns, which he says stem from two cases in which Wilson was the defense attorney.
After the appointment was announced last week, Maher shared the letter with Steamboat Pilot & Today, saying that through providing a vigorous defense of her clients, Wilson treated victims in a way that was “less than humane,” and that he believes was “unethical.”
“The way that she has practiced, in my experience, just doesn’t show that she’s willing to do the work that’s necessary to fill that role on that bench in a way that the people of Routt County deserve,” Maher said.
Reached over the phone while on vacation in Mexico, Wilson said she was aware of the letter but hadn’t read it.
After Pilot & Today shared the letter with her, Wilson declined to directly address any of the allegations in it, saying she didn’t feel it was in the “best interest of our judicial system, our courts or the people of Routt County,” for her to do so.
“The statements about me in the letter are not representative of me or the manner in which I have conducted myself professionally for the past 15 years,” Wilson said.
Wilson said she was asked about the concerns by the nominating commission and by the governor’s office. She also said the governor’s office conducted a follow-up investigation into the claims.
“Despite these accusations, the nominating commission and the governor both saw fit to nominate and then appoint me as the next county court judge for Routt County,” Wilson said.
Conor Cahill, Gov. Jared Polis’ press secretary, said all comments that were submitted as part of the nominating process were considered.
“The Governor’s Office of Legal Counsel investigated, and conducted due diligence on the three candidates,“ Cahill said. ”(Wilson) was the top candidate proposed by the local 14th Judicial District nominating committee.“
Maher’s letter is three pages long and gives some details of the two instances that he believes should have disqualified Wilson, one of which involved a defendant in Jackson County.
Jackson County Sheriff Jerrod Poley, who worked on this particular case, said he also tried to raise concerns with the commission about Wilson, but an incorrect email address prevented his letter from getting to the commission.
Jackson County is not part of the 14th Judicial District where Wilson was appointed, but Poley said he had experiences with her as a defense attorney in Colorado’s 8th Judicial District.
Poley said he could not talk specifically about the case because it was sealed, but used words like “harsh,” “ruthless,” and “no compassion,” in his criticism of Wilson. Poley and Maher both alleged that Wilson went too far in defense of her client, which they say resulted in a minor being “victim shamed.”
Maher’s letter does not include specifics like case numbers or dates when these instances allegedly happened, though it notes they were in the last two years.
The Steamboat Pilot & Today was unable to speak with others involved in either case mentioned in the letter or secure documents from either proceeding on Wednesday.
Maher said he has never gotten involved in a judge appointment before this one. He also submitted letters of support for 14th Judicial District Attorney Matt Karzen and for Melinda Carlson, a deputy district attorney in Routt County. He said Wilson’s consideration is what led him to write the letters.
“If Erin Wilson didn’t put her name in the hat, I probably would have never written any letters at all,” Maher said.
Maher said he believed others submitted letters as well, but these documents have not been publicly disclosed.
Routt County Sheriff Garrett Wiggins and Hayden Police Chief Greg Tuliszewski both said they haven’t interacted with Wilson and don’t have a comment about her appointment.
When there is a vacancy on the bench, like the one that was created by Routt County Judge James Garrecht’s pending retirement, the court first announces the vacancy.
Those interested in filling the seat submitted their application to the nominating commission, after which their names were released publicly. The commission then conducted interviews and selected three finalists to pass onto Polis’s office for a potential appointment.
The three finalist recommendations for this appointment were Wilson, Karzen and Assistant Routt County Attorney Lynaia South.
“I can only speak for myself, and I believe (Wilson) will be a great judge,” said Randall Salky, an attorney in Steamboat Springs and one of seven members of the nominating commission.
“(Wilson) is clearly capable of being fair to all litigants and parties before her, I think she is eminently qualified and I think she’s extremely intelligent,” Salky continued. “I think she knows the law exceptionally well, and she has plenty of practice experience practicing before the courts. I think she’ll make an exceptional judge.”
Salky declined to talk about conversations the commission had about Wilson or any other candidate it considered for Routt County Court Judge. Materials submitted to the commission “shall be confidential and may not be discussed outside commission meetings,” according to the rules of the commission.
Routt County Assistant District Attorney Matt Tjosvold said he recused himself from the process because of his relationship with Karzen. Other members of the nominating committee did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Wednesday.
Generally, Salky said, he remembered getting material sent to the commission about many of the judge candidates both for and against their candidacy.
John Sarche, a spokesperson for Colorado’s Judicial Branch who was not directly involved with this nomination process, said the reason these names are shared publicly is to invite public feedback — good or bad.
“We invite that kind of comment,” Sarche said. “The governor’s office has an email address set up specifically to accept comments along those lines from people who want to say good things or otherwise.”
On March 7, Wilson will takeover for retiring Judge Gerrecht. Her term will initially run two years before she will need to be reelected by Routt County voters to earn a full four year term.
Wilson said she applied to be a Routt County Court Judge for the same reasons she became a lawyer — to be a champion of justice and stand up for the underdog.
On the bench, Wilson said she not only wants to create a more just and fair judicial system, but hopes that effort helps to build a more just and fair community in general.
As the county court level is considered the “people’s court,” Wilson said, the person at its helm needs to be a patient and effective communicator, to respect all roles in the justice system and have a strong knowledge and understanding of the rule of law.
“The sum of my life experiences along with my professional work representing the indigent criminally accused has provided me with the tools and insight to be that judge,” Wilson said.
Some of the qualities Wilson said she feels she brings to the bench are her ideas for the justice system’s role in bettering the community and improving access to the judicial system by identifying barriers and developing solutions to break them down.
“I am honored to have the opportunity to serve the people of Routt County and to create a county court that people consider to truly be their courtroom,” Wilson said. “A place that no matter the outcome of their proceeding, they walk away from having been respected and heard.”
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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