Retired Boulder Chief Judge Selected For Colorado Supreme Court

November 21, 2020
The Colorado Supreme Court courtroom, located on the fourth floor of the Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center, in Denver, Colorado.
The Colorado Supreme Court courtroom, located on the fourth floor of the Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center, in Denver, Colorado.
(Photo: Courtesy of Jeffrey Beall)
The Colorado Supreme Court courtroom, located on the fourth floor of the Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center, in Denver, Colorado.

Gov. Jared Polis has selected former Boulder chief judge Maria Encarnacion Berkenkotter to fill an upcoming vacancy on Colorado's highest court.

Berkenkotter served as a judge in Colorado's 20th Judicial District for 11 years, before she retired in 2017. She currently works for the Judicial Arbiter Group, which provides mediation and other dispute resolution services.

“Throughout her career, she has shown a keen ability to render sound and wise decisions on a broad range of issues,” Polis said in a statement announcing the appointment. “She has deftly presided over high-profile, complicated, and often emotional cases, and has implemented beneficial operational changes within the Judicial Branch.”

During Berkenkotter's time on the bench, she presided over numerous trials, the most high-profile of which may have been the case of Dynel Lane, who attacked an 8-month-pregnant Longmont woman and removed the fetus from her body. The woman survived, but the fetus did not.

Prior to her time as a judge, Berkenkotter worked in the Colorado Attorney General's office in the consumer protection department.

“I’m honored to be selected by Governor Polis for this important position,” said Berkenkotter in the statement. “It is essential for the foundations of our democracy, including our courts, to remain strong during these unprecedented times.”

Berkenkotter will take the seat of Chief Justice Nathan Coats, who has reached the Colorado courts' mandatory retirement age of 72. Coats was the last remaining court member appointed by a Republican governor.

Colorado has an unusual system for appointing Supreme Court justices. When a vacancy comes open, those interested in serving on the seven-member court can apply for the job. A nonpartisan panel selects three finalists from that pool and the governor must make a choice between them.

Berkenkotter went through this process at least once before; she was among the finalists Gov. John Hickenlooper considered for his last appointment in 2018.

Under Colorado's rule, Berkenkotter will serve an initial two-year term on the court, and then voters will be asked whether to retain her for subsequent 10-year terms.