Gov. Jared Polis on Friday named Maria Berkenkotter, a former Boulder County chief judge, to the Colorado Supreme Court.
Berkenkotter will replace retiring Chief Justice Nathan B. Coats, the last Republican-appointed justice on the state’s highest court.
“Throughout (Judge Berkenkotter’s) career, she has shown a keen ability to render sound and wise decisions on a broad range of issues,” Polis said in a news release. “She has deftly presided over high-profile, complicated, and often emotional cases, and has implemented beneficial operational changes within the Judicial Branch. She has decades of experience in her field and is universally respected among the Colorado bar. I have no doubt she will be an asset to the State and add immense value to the Supreme Court.”
Polis selected Berkenkotter over two other finalists, longtime attorneys Andrea Wang and Timothy MacDonald, in his first opportunity to fill a vacancy on the seven-member bench. Former Govs. John Hickenlooper and Bill Ritter, both Democrats, appointed the six other current justices.
“I’m honored to be selected by Governor Polis for this important position,” Berkenkotter said in a statement. “It is essential for the foundations of our democracy, including our courts, to remain strong during these unprecedented times.”
A graduate of the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, Berkenkotter was a finalist two years ago for the state Supreme Court — a selection that ultimately went to Justice Carlos A. Samour instead. She currently works for the Judicial Arbiter Group, which provides professional dispute resolution and litigation services, and serves as a judicial coach for the Colorado Judicial Department.
Berkenkotter spent 2013 to 2017 as the chief judge in the 20th Judicial District, which encompasses Boulder County, and previously served as a longtime district court judge there.
The Boulder jurist may be best known statewide for her role overseeing the 2016 trial of Dynel Lane, who was convicted of beating a pregnant woman unconscious and cutting a seven-month fetus from her womb.
Berkenkotter ultimately sentenced Lane to 100 years in prison for the crime.
Stan Garnett, who served as Boulder’s district attorney when she was the chief judge in the district, said Polis picked a candidate who is “not only … a terrific trial judge, but is great at managing judicial resources and issues and community expectations.”
As a newly appointed member of the Supreme Court, Berkenkotter will serve an initial two-year term and then must run for retention at the next general election. Supreme Court justices are up for retention every 10 years, and Colorado state judges must retire at 72.
With Coats’ departure, Justice Brian Boatright will become the new chief justice. He applauded Polis’ choice Friday, calling Berkenkotter a “terrific addition” to the high court.
Coats said the Supreme Court’s role in protecting the Colorado Constitution has taken on new meaning during these “unprecedented times.”
“…I know that Judge Berkenkotter will treat this duty with the deliberation and care that she has shown throughout her career,” the retiring chief judge said in a statement.
Daily Camera reporter Mitchell Byars contributed to this report.