Judge likely won't return to the bench

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— It appears 14th Judicial District Judge Joel S. Thompson will not return to the bench.

Late results showed voters in Routt, Moffat and Grand counties took the advice of an independent commission charged with evaluating Thompson's performance and voted not to retain him Tuesday. With 85 percent of precincts reporting, 5,956 voters, or 52 percent, had said Thompson should not be retained. Thompson had received 5,535 votes in favor of retention.

Thompson was one of two judges in the state who was not recommended for retention in an independent evaluation of 104 trial and appellate judges and justices seeking re-election in the Nov. 5 general election.

The 14th Judicial District Commission on Judicial Performance, which voted 6-to-3 for Thompson's non-retention earlier this fall, cited concerns about courtesy and the effect of personal relationships on his judicial performance.

While Routt and Moffat counties largely voted against Thompson's retention, 57 percent of voters in Grand County approved keeping him in office. With 14 precincts reporting in Routt County, 46 percent of voters voted for Thompson's retention.

Routt County Judge James Garrecht and Moffat County Judge Mary Lynne James were returned to office.

With 14 precincts reporting, 81 percent of voters approved Garrecht's retention.

The commission recommended Garrecht and James retain their judgeships, but Routt County residents only voted on the fate of Thompson and Garrecht.

In an interview with the commission, Thompson said he was not knowingly impolite and asserted his personal integrity in response to survey comments that questioned his standard of conduct in light of publicity raised about his private life during the Thomas Lee Johnson trial.

Thompson recused himself from the trial after his live-in girlfriend, Billie Jo Vreeman, was arrested in a federal drug sting at the Moffat County home he and Vreeman shared.

John Ponikvar, a Craig businessman and spokesman for the 14th Judicial District Commission on Judicial Performance, said the commission primarily based its recommendation on the way Thompson treats people in the courtroom.

The commission recognized Thompson's intelligence and devotion to being a judge, Ponikvar said, but could not ignore concerns about his lack of courtesy in the courtroom.

Garrecht, whose favorable recommendation came by way of an 8-to-1 decision, received high marks in almost every category of the survey.

Survey results revealed 75 percent of attorneys and 65 percent of non-attorneys supported Thompson's retention.

Many in the legal community have defended Thompson, arguing he is an excellent judge and that what many people perceive as rudeness in the courtroom is merely his strict adherence to judicial decorum.

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