By Don Knox, LAW WEEK COLORADO
A longtime judge who ruled in matters as disparate as the JonBenet Ramsey grand jury and the Boulder “land grab” case is retiring.
20th District Judge Morris W. Sandstead Jr. will retire effective Sept. 30, the Colorado Judicial Branch announced Tuesday. The district’s nominating commission will meet Aug. 31 to select Sandstead’s successor.
Sandstead, a graduate of Duke University and the University of Colorado School of Law, has spent more than a quarter century on Boulder’s bench. His current workload involves mainly civil and domestic cases but during his over twenty years on the bench has handled criminal and juvenile cases as well.
Sandstead famously discharged the grand jury investigating the December 1996 homicide of child beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey. After 13 months of secret testimony and an investigation that lasted 34 months and cost more than $2 million, the grand jury determined that no charges would be filed.
Years later, Sandstead ordered a restraining order stopping the construction of a residential fence in Boulder’s well-known “land-grab” case. In the case, a former Boulder judge and his wife claimed they had cared for the property for many years and were entitled to enjoy it – even though they weren’t the original owners.
The case prompted numerous revisions to Colorado’s eminent domain rules.
In his most recent performance evaluation, Sandstead was found to be a committed, hard working, fair and empathetic judge. Attorneys felt he was flexible, personable, and open to feedback. His time spent on the bench has made him a very knowledgeable jurist with his decisions well thought out based on law and the facts, his evaluation concluded. Of the 42 attorneys responding to the survey 88% were strongly or somewhat favoring retention. The 78 non-attorney respondents to the random survey showed 92% were strongly or somewhat favoring retention.
Unlike some other judges on Boulder’s district bench, Sandstead was generally not accessible to the media, a Boulder Bar Association survey found.
“His view is that all he has to say about a proceeding is said on the record in open court,” the Boulder bar reported. “However, if there is a question it must be presented to him in writing. It is his view that if the media is uncertain about a ruling, the person having the question should contact a lawyer who is an expert in the area of the ruling.”
To be eligible for the appointment to fill Sandstead’s vacancy, applicants must be a registered voter of the district and must have been admitted to the practice of law in Colorado for five years.
The current annual salary for this position is $128,598. The initial term of office of a district judge is a provisional term of two years; thereafter, the incumbent district judge, if approved by the voters, has a term of six years.
Application forms are available from the office of the ex officio chair of the nominating commission, Justice Gregory J. Hobbs Jr., 2 East 14th Ave., Denver, Colo. 80203; and the office of the district administrator, Amy Waddle, Boulder Justice Center, P.O. Box 4249, Boulder, CO 80306. Applications also are available on the court’s home page at http://www.courts.state.co.us/Careers/Judge.cfm
The original and seven copies of the application must be filed with the ex officio chair no later than 5 p.m. Monday, Aug. 24.