Baca County Court Judge Debra Gunkel agrees to retire as part of the discipline
|Judge Debra Gunkel |
(Colorado Judicial Branch)
Baca County Court Judge Debra Gunkel agreed to retire as part of the discipline, according to the state Supreme Court’s censure, which was published Thursday.
Almost all discipline for Colorado judges happens in secret, and Gunkel is only the sixth judge in the state to be publicly disciplined since 2010 — but her censure comes as part of a recent increase in such discipline.
Three of the six Colorado judges who have been publicly censured in the last decade were disciplined in the last six months, as the judicial branch has faced increased scrutiny of its integrity and operations.
The half-dozen judges who were publicly disciplined faced censures for unbecoming or unethical conduct, not issues of law, which must be litigated through the appeals process.
Gunkel was arrested in 2018 and 2019 and charged with driving under the influence, according to the censure. Both times she was stopped, she told the arresting officers that she was a judge, and asked that they either take her home or call her husband instead of taking her to jail, according to the censure.
Gunkel, who was removed from presiding over DUI cases in court while her own cases were pending, was on probation for the 2018 offense in Colorado when she was arrested again in 2019 in Kansas. Baca County is in the far southeast corner of Colorado and abuts Oklahoma and Kansas. Gunkel pleaded guilty to both offenses.
The Supreme Court’s public censure said she’d failed “to maintain the high standards of judicial conduct required of a judge,” and violated a rule which “prohibits a judge from abusing the prestige of the judicial office.”
Gunkel’s discipline and retirement closely follow the censure and resignation of 18th Judicial District Judge Natalie Chase, who was disciplined in April in part because she used a racial slur in conversations with coworkers and while on the bench.
The other judges to be publicly disciplined were: Laurie Booras, who called another judge “the little Mexican”; Robert Rand, who made misogynistic and inappropriate comments; Lance Timbreza, who was charged with driving under the influence; and Ryan Kamada, who tipped a friend off to a federal drug investigation and was censured in December.