At 9 o'clock on a weekday morning, the doors to Denver probate court offices are locked.
So are the offices of the judge, her clerk and the magistrate who helps the judge manage about 2,500 yearly cases ranging from disputed estates and trusts to guardian appointments and mental-illness commitments.
To cope with a shrinking staff, the Denver court has limited public access to five hours a day. A note on the judge's door informs everyone of a two-hour window on "Mondays only" to call the court and schedule a hearing.
Like courts across Colorado, Judge C. Jean Stewart's court has been obliged to function with fewer people and less money.
But in interviews, former employees allege this court also suffers from a failure to require key staff members to actually work a full week in court. Critics of the judge also say she can be capricious and biased on the bench.
"What I found so difficult to grasp, this was a court of law, it was hard for me to understand how people could work from home. Their presence was required," said Caroline Cammack, a Denver probate court employee who was fired last year in a dispute over her job duties and who has sued the court. "Some days there was almost no one in the court."
Guardians are appointed to assist people who can no longer make decisions about their own health, and conservators manage money for incapacitated people.
In 2006, a state audit found 57 percent of guardians and conservators were not filing reports required by law about people they were appointed to protect, and Colorado courts inadequately reviewed reports that were filed. This year The Post reported that many guardians in Denver continued to file no reports, that some abuses went undetected for years and that the roster of wards protected by the court included dead people.
Probate courts judge emotional cases, appointing guardians and conservators for people who have lost the ability to make decisions for themselves, hearing petitions to commit people with mental illnesses, and settling family feuds over wills and estates.
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Lawyers, Others Take Sides of Efficacy of Denver Probate Court