Colorado Judge Arrested on DUI Suspicion

Judicial discipline isn’t addressed until after a conviction

A second Colorado judge might be facing trouble for drinking and driving.

The question whether discipline is necessary and in what form won’t be resolved for some time. The Commission on Judicial Discipline doesn’t yet have authority over the case of Baca County part-time Judge Debra Gunkel, whom the Denver Post reported was arrested in mid-August on suspicion of driving under the influence in Greeley County, Kansas.

As of August 30, she had not been charged with any crimes. Gunkel, who is serving probation for a 2018 DUI conviction, reportedly was also suspected of driving with an open container, speeding and failing to have an interlock device, an in-vehicle alcohol monitor. Gunkel’s case will proceed in Kansas before making its way to Colorado. 

William Campbell, executive director of the Commission on Judicial Discipline, told Law Week the commission doesn’t have authority until a judge actually receives a conviction. Colorado’s Code of Judicial Conduct states judges must report criminal convictions within 10 days. They also must separately report convictions to the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel. He said disciplinary decisions are made considering the circumstances of each specific case, and there are no set penalties for particular violations or if a judge doesn’t report a criminal conviction to the commission. 

As to what discipline would be appropriate, Campbell couldn’t say. “They depend on the facts of each case,” He said. “Although they sometimes look similar, they always have something about them that’s different, so we have to look closely at them.” 

21st District Judge Lance Timbreza recently pleaded guilty to driving while ability impaired. He received unsupervised probation, community service and fines, according to the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel.

Disciplinary actions by the commission can range from an admonishment or orders for professional assistance to holding a formal trial in front a panel of three special masters, who are appointed by the Supreme Court. Campbell said the latter was the process used to decide sanctions for former Court of Appeals Judge Laurie Booras. If the Commission on Judicial Discipline decides removing a judge is appropriate, it makes a recommendation to the Colorado Supreme Court.

Booras resigned in January after facing allegations of sexual harassment against a former partner, and for using racist language to describe a fellow Court of Appeals judge. The Commission on Judicial Discipline recommended Booras’ removal from the bench, but because she resigned before the Supreme Court reached its decision, the court declined to say whether that recommendation was appropriate. 

“There’s just no way to predict until we get further into [a case],” Campbell said. “It’s kind of like a trial in itself. We’re not allowed to reach a decision until we hear the case.” 

—Julia Cardi

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