By Matt Masich, LAW WEEK COLORADO
DENVER — Gov. Bill Ritter’s appointment of his own legal counsel to a state district judgeship was strictly on the level, his office said Tuesday in response to a Law Week Colorado inquiry.
Ritter announced yesterday that he had named chief legal counsel Craig Welling to one of two open district judgeships in Adams County. Welling was one of the applicants interviewed by an independent seven-member nominating panel. The panel forwarded a list of six finalists for the two open judgeships, and from this list Ritter selected Welling and Walter Kiesnowski, Jr.
“It was an honor and a privilege to be able to appoint Craig to the District Court bench, in large part because of the quality of his analytical abilities,” Ritter said in a statement. “He is one of the best and deepest thinkers I know.”
Welling normally advises Ritter on judicial selections, but he was replaced in that role by a volunteer group of advisers.
“Craig was completely removed from this particular process so as not to create in practice or perception any unfairness or inappropriateness. He was not involved at all,” said Evan Dreyer, Ritter’s spokesman, in an e-mail to Law Week. “Additionally, just because Craig works for the Governor does not mean he should have been automatically disqualified from pursuing this opportunity. That, frankly, would have been unfair and inappropriate.”
Ritter made his decision based on criteria including judgment, intellect, analytical ability and temperament, Dreyer said.
Welling said he had been interested in seeking a judgeship for a number of years, and thought his civil litigation experience would add to the bench. He talked to Ritter before submitting an application, he said.
“I’m certainly not the first to apply who has worked closely with the governor,” Welling said. “I know he’s approached appointments where he’s known the candidate well objectively, and they’ve been appointed on their merits, not on their relationship with the governor.”
Welling was endorsed for the judgeship by three specialty bar associations, Ritter’s office noted — the Colorado Hispanic Bar Association (letter available here), the Asian Pacific American Bar Association of Colorado and the GLBT Bar Association (letters available below).