03 June 2011

New Probate Judge Appointed In Denver

Per Law week June 1, 2011 via the Trust and Estate Section of the Colordo Bar Association:

DENVER — Wednesday, June 1, 2011 — Gov. John Hickenlooper announced today the appointment of Elizabeth Leith to serve as a probate judge in the 2nd Judicial District (Denver County). Leith will replace the Honorable C. Jean Stewart, who is stepping down June 30.

Leith, of Denver, is currently Magistrate Judge for the 2nd Judicial District, where she has served since 1999. Issues that come before her include civil discovery disputes, liquidation of damages, foreclosure issues, child support, post-decree related matters and other issues. Before becoming a magistrate, she was an Assistant City Attorney for Denver, Human Services Section (1991-1998); Deputy District Attorney for the 4th Judicial District, Child Enforcement Unit (1989-1991); private practice attorney (1989); and associate attorney for Sandra J. Plaff, Esq., (1988-1989).  Leith earned a bachelor’s degree from Metropolitan State College of Denver (1982) and a law degree from the University of Denver College of Law (1988).

Leith’s appointment is effective July 1.

The other two finalists for the position also had backgrounds as magistrates. One was the recently sitting Denver Probate Court magistrate (who was previously a magistrate in a court other than the probate court in Colorado who also lacked substantial probate experience), and another was a previous Denver Probate Court magistrate. The selection committee clearly felt that generalized judicial experience was more important than substantive law experience in the areas within the jurisdiction of the court.

Leith comes to this specialized post with very little probate experience, and what little experience she has in the field is at a very junior level when she was fresh out of law school, and is more than twenty years old, but this isn't necessarily a fatal flaw, even on this subject matter specialized court, because very few of the contested cases at the Denver Probate case actually involve the probate of wills. The vast majority of the contested cases involve guardianships and conservatorship which calls for talents similar to that involved in domestic relations cases. The vast majority of decedent's estate cases are handled administratively by court staff without ever reaching the judge.

Leith's appointment is the only one of the three nominees that makes a clean break with Judge Stewart's tenure (judges appoint magistrates), which several Denver Post stories had seriously criticized, despite her retention by the voters in 2010 with an overwhelming majority of the vote.

I wish Judge Leith the best of luck in her new position.

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