John Colson

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August 3, 2010
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Suspended Garfield County judge not seeking another term

Garfield County Judge Jason Jovanovich will not be trying to keep his job in the upcoming election, according to several officials in the state judicial system.

Jovanovich, who lives in Rifle, was suspended from the bench in May over allegations that he exhibited "inappropriate behavior" toward his staff, including one instance where he threatened to have his court clerk arrested over a dispute.

Phone calls to his home were not returned on Monday.

But officials with the 9th Judicial District and with the state court administrator's office confirmed that he had decided not to "stand for retention," as it is termed, in the November election.

The decision apparently was made within the last couple of days, as the July 30 edition of the website showed Jovanovich as the only judge in the state who had not declared his intentions for the election.

Of the 143 judges eligible for voter retention this year, 134 had decided to stand for retention while nine, including Jovanovich, have opted to retire or otherwise end their careers on the bench.

Jovanovich, who was appointed to the bench by then Gov. Bill Owens in 2005, had previously served as a deputy district attorney in the 9th District.

He was retained in office in the 2006 general election. This would have been his second retention election.

But Jovanovich ran into trouble with some members of his staff starting as soon as he was appointed, according to two observers familiar with the workings of the Rifle County Court. The two would only speak on condition of anonymity.

The two accused Kathy Schouten, a 25-year employee of the district, of having disliked Jovanovich when he was a deputy DA. That animosity, they said, continued when he became a judge.

It was Schouten, along with outgoing 9th Judicial District Administrator Solveig Olson, who complained about Jovanovich to the state Commission on Judicial Performance in May.

Jovanovich was suspended from the bench in May and, according to court employees, was escorted from the courtroom one evening by deputies of the Garfield County Sheriff's Office.

The suspension, court officials have stressed, had nothing to do with the retention issue, but revolved around a human resources matter that has yet to be resolved.

County Court Clerk James Bradford termed the coincidental timing of the two events - Jovanovich's suspension by the human resources division of the state courts system, and the requirement that he stand for retention - "both odd and unfortunate."

For now, Jovanovich's duties on the bench will continue to be fulfilled by visiting "senior judges" who have retired from active judicial service but make themselves available for emergencies.

"He is still, until further notice, the county court judge for Rifle," said Bradford, "unless he decides to resign." As the official judge, Bradford said, Jovanovich will continue to collect his paycheck from the state until early January, when a new judge is to be sworn in.

A judicial nominating committee will be formed for that purpose, and will interview however many qualified applicants step forward to take the job.

That committee will recommend a final list of three nominees to the governor, who will then select one to take over the court.

Whomever is selected will then serve up to two years as an "interim term" before being required to either stand for retention or not.">class="NormalParagraphStyle">

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The Post Independent Updated Aug 3, 2010 11:05AM Published Aug 3, 2010 02:01AM Copyright 2010 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.