2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner
  • Landscaping among nagging problems at troubled Claremont Ranch

    Fri, April 18, 2014 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Danielle Keenan has volunteered to landscape this barren, weed-choked parkway near the entrance to her unincorporated Claremont Ranch neighborhood on the east edge of Colorado Springs. As seen April 10, 2014, photo. Courtesy Danielle Keenan.

    Danielle Keenan has volunteered to landscape this barren, weed-choked parkway near the entrance to her unincorporated Claremont Ranch neighborhood on the east edge of Colorado Springs. As seen April 10, 2014, photo. Courtesy Danielle Keenan.

    Danielle Keenan takes pride in her home in Claremont Ranch, an unincorporated subdivision of more than 1,000 homes just northeast of the Colorado Springs Airport on the city’s eastern edge.

    And so it has bugged her that the entrance to the neighborhood looks so bad. Ever since she and her husband bought their home in 2006, the stretch along Marksheffel Road between Constitution Avenue and U.S. 24 has been a mess.

    Danielle Keenan

    Danielle Keenan

    “It never got landscaped,” Keenan said. “We’ve got dirt and weeds growing there. It’s ugly.”

    For years, Keenan was understanding because there was construction everywhere and Marksheffel was being widened to four lanes to accommodate growth in the area.

    In addition, the drought was choking lawns throughout the region, making landscaping projects a waste of time.

    But after sidewalks were poured in 2011, she was disappointed no landscaping ever was done.

    “Tons of people drive by there every day and see it,” she said. “Not just our neighborhood would benefit. Everybody who drives by would benefit and get a little color on their drive.”

    So she asked if El Paso County would plant some grass along the half-mile stretch of Marksheffel adjacent to the neighborhood.

    But county transportation staff said there was no money for landscaping the area.
    “So I told them I was willing to take on the cost and work myself,” Keenan said. “I offered to do a 50-foot stretch at first. I’d do a little bit at a time as I have the time, energy and money to improve the neighborhood.”

    But again she was disappointed. A county staffer told her there were liability issues that would prevent her from being permitted to tackle the landscaping along the public sidewalk.

    “I just wanted to adopt the stretch,” she said.

    So she called me and, frankly, I was puzzled. I called County Commissioner Sallie Clark, who immediately put me in touch with Jim Reid, the county’s executive director of public services.

    Turns out, Keenan was asking for help from the wrong folks.

    “That patch of land along Marksheffel is not county property,” Reid said. “I checked the plat. It’s owned by the Central Marksheffel Metro District.”

    That prompted my next question: What the heck is the Central Marksheffel Metro District?

    Terry Schooler answered my question. He’s the manager of the district.

    It’s a taxing district created by developers 12 years ago to serve as a quasi-municipal corporation covering about 423 acres and authorized to levy property taxes of 40 mills on property within the district.

    The Marksheffel district is within the sprawling Cherokee Metro District, also a nonprofit, quasi-municipal government corporation created in 1957 to provide water and services to about 18,000 people in 8,000 homes in Cimarron Hills and other unincorporated communities east of Colorado Springs.

    Cherokee has been plagued for years by soaring water rates after it was ordered by a water court judge to abandon four wells that provided 20 percent of its water supply.

    The Marksheffel district was designed primarily to pay off a $31.5 million bond issued to finance the widening of Marksheffel Road, a north-south thoroughfare that bisects the district. The idea was that any tax levy revenue left after the bond payment would go to such things as parks and landscaping.

    But, Schooler said, the tax levy didn’t provide much more for extras. As has happened in other metro districts in the region, tax revenue hasn’t flowed in as projected as homebuilding collapsed with the economy, meaning improvements such as landscaping have been put on hold.

    Claremont Ranch is a neighborhood of more than 1,000 homes in an unincorporated area just east of Colorado Springs. Courtesy FlashEarth.com

    Claremont Ranch is a neighborhood of more than 1,000 homes in an unincorporated area just east of Colorado Springs. Courtesy FlashEarth.com

    Just now, in fact, the district is getting around to putting playground equipment into a small pocket park at Colorado Tech Drive and Velliquette Lane.

    “We’ve had very limited funds to maintain our common areas,” Schooler said. “We’ve chosen this year to spend some money . . . to give the kids something to play on.”
    Landscaping the parkway is out of the question, he said.

    “When that was graded out, we vegetated with native grasses,” Schooler said. “But given the drought, I guess it didn’t take. It became pretty barren.

    “To plant any material and maintain it on common areas is an expensive proposition. Landscaping needs to be watered on a regular basis. Irrigation on a strip like that would run $4,000 to $6,000 a month.”

    Given the severe watering restriction in the Cherokee Water District and the high cost of water, the Marksheffel district board opted not to invest in landscaping, Schooler said.

    Keenan acknowledged that the water crisis in the Cherokee district has contributed to the death of trees throughout the neighborhood and burned-up lawns.

    Indeed, times have been tough in Claremont Ranch, which suffered the county’s highest foreclosure rate in 2013 with a rate of 1.8 percent and has been among the area’s highest foreclosure rates each of the last several years.

    It hasn’t helped that the neighborhood has many homeowners burdened by combined property taxes upwards of 100 mills. That’s a tax of $100 on every $1,000 of assessed value of a property!

    And while she’s glad the park is getting a playground, Keenan was disappointed to learn the parkway will remain barren.

    “We paid $650 in property taxes last year to the district,” she said. “We’re not getting much of anything for our money.”

    Given the bleak prospects of any help from her taxing districts, Keenan said she’d be willing to take on responsibility for a 50-foot section at the entrance to the neighborhood.

    “I’m willing to take on the cost and work myself,” she said.

    “It’s about neighborhood pride. That’s a public area. I think it would be nice to give it a face-lift.”

    She said she’d do a little bit at a time and perhaps some neighbors would be inspired to join her.

    “I understand money is tight and I understand wanting to conserve water but the lack of anything, dirt and weeds, is not acceptable,” Keenan said.

    Schooler invited Keenan to call him so they could talk about her idea for adopting the barren parkway.

    “We try to cut down the weeds regularly,” he said. “But that’s the extent of the improvements we’d make on that particular strip.

    “If neighbors want, I’d be glad for them to do that. We’re more than willing to cooperate on that.”

    Danielle Keenan and the stretch of parkway she'd like landscaped at the entrance to the Claremont Ranch subdivision east of Colorado Springs. Courtesy photo.

    Danielle Keenan and the stretch of parkway she’d like landscaped at the entrance to the Claremont Ranch subdivision east of Colorado Springs. Courtesy photo.

  • Longtime Colorado Springs neighborhood activist Jan Doran honored by El Paso County

    Mon, May 13, 2013 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Jan Doran

    Jan Doran

    Longtime Colorado Springs neighborhood activist Jan Doran was honored Friday by El Paso County for her years of volunteer service to the region.

    Readers of Side Streets will recognize Doran as a leader of the Council of Neighbors & Organizations during a period when the umbrella group of area neighborhoods elevated its profile at the city and county levels.

    Doran also has served on countless volunteer boards and organized workshops in her seeming tireless commitment to public service.

    Here are comments made by El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark at the Friday volunteer appreciation breakfast:

    “From county fair to storm water task force, it’s hard to attend an El Paso County function or participate in a serious long range discussion without hearing her name,” Clark said of Doran.

    Clark then listed some of Doran’s contributions: founding member of the Citizens Outreach Group;  member of the Citizens Budget Oversight Committee; the Department of Human Services Advisory Commission; the Fair & Events Complex Advisory Board; and the Pikes Peak Regional Stormwater Task Force.

    “She has is truly a force for the good of this community,” Clark said. “”It’s good thing she doesn’t work by the hour because we couldn’t possibly afford to pay her for all she does to support this county and this community.”

    Jim Abbott

    Jim Abbott

    Also honored Friday was Jim Abbott, who received the 2013 Jack L. Blackwell Award for the Outstanding County Volunteer for giving more than 3,000 volunteer hours to the Veterans Services office helping veterans and their families secure benefits.

    Commissioner Amy Lathen had this to say about Abbott:

    “Jim Abbott has been there in the Veterans Services office for more than five years now,” Lathen said. “Most often, Jim is the first person they meet when veterans, widows and dependents come through the door.  Many have already tried to navigate a web of federal rules and procedures required to get veterans benefits and all they know for sure is that they need help.  So it’s a real relief when Jim Abbot meets them at our door with warm, courteous professional and confident greeting.”

    The appreciate breakfast recognized all the folks who donate their time to46 different advisory boards, commissions, task forces and working groups.



    Wed, June 15, 2011 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    The battle over Sertoma Park in unincorporated Widefield was a loud, angry fight in 2008.


    Sertoma Park, as it is known, looks like a big vacant lot with an access road off Squire Street. It is surrounded by homes and slopes steeply to the west where there is a pond and trees.

    Neighbors, led by Joe Berkhoff, denounced the sale of the 5.4-acre vacant lot by the Widefield School District to a developer.

    They alleged violations of law.

    They accused officials of misdeeds.

    They claimed conspiracies.

    They attacked the developer who proposed building a 72-unit senior assisted living center.

    They even tried to buy the property, offering $175,000.

    But developer Ron Hall had an option on the land for $210,000 so the neighbors were rebuffed.

    This thing got ugly.

    Berkhoff and his neighbors were passionate about this property.



    The 5.4-acre parcel known as Sertoma Park in Widefield as seen from Google Earth.

    I’d even say irrational to the point of making angry threats to me when they didn’t like what I wrote about the dispute.

    They felt ownership of the property. It was their park, in their minds. They played there. Walked their pets there. Berkoff’s aunt even used it as the driveway to her garage.

    So when it was sold and plans were announced, they felt betrayed, misled, lied to by just about everyone.

    Blueprints for the Senior Assisted Living Center

    I don’t blame them for being upset if someone had promised them a park and suddenly they discovered it was private property and soon a nursing home would be built.

    I understand why they’d be angry at the thought of their cul de sacs becoming through streets.

    But I don’t understand the nasty way they approached Hall.

    Developer Ron Hall had concrete barriers placed in front of the garage of Anna Maria Stevens, 73, in June 2008 in retaliation for her family's opposition to his senior living center project.

    Hall got so upset at the public thrashing he received that he indulged in a petty bullying tactic and piled a bunch of concrete barriers in front of garage doors of Anna Maria Stevens, Berkoff’s aunt, blocking her access.

    He removed them after a few days.

    I talked to Hall, who has had financial problems since the economy crashed. He still hopes to resurrect his project.

    But El Paso County project manager Craig Dossey said the property has a huge drainage problem which will expensive to overcome. He hasn’t heard anything from Hall in months.

    And the property owner, Daryl Slinkard, wants to be rid of the property, leading him to post it for sale. He is shocked Berkhoff declined his offer to sell him the land and even finance the purchase.

    Berkhoff said his circumstances have changed since 2008. No other neighbors want to step up and help buy it. He can’t afford it. And the price is too high.

    But he vows to sue if Hall tries to build the project as planned with emergency access roads coming off Raemar Circle and Raemar Place.

    Here’s a link to my April 2008 column on Sertoma Park. My accompanying blog can be read here.

    This link takes you to the June 2008 blog I wrote after Hall blocked Anna Maria Stevens.

    An artist's rendering of the proposed senior living center.



    Sun, February 27, 2011 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    The last 10 years were tough on neighborhoods everywhere, with the mortgage meltdown and plunging property values and record foreclosures and all.

    Now, newly released 2010 census data tells us just how tough it was on older neighborhoods in the core of Colorado Springs.

    While El Paso County’s population was exploding by an additional 20 percent during the decade, established Springs neighborhoods were suffering significant shrinkage.

    Glance at the interactive map The Gazette’s Maria St. Louis-Sanchez created to show population shifts.

    Neighborhoods along the perimeter of the city are burning up with new residents, shown on the map in red, orange and gold.

    Then check out the  blue/gray masses signifying populations losses. They spread from Peregrine, Rockrimmon and Briargate up north to the Broadmoor and Stratton Meadows on the south. And from the West side to Patty Jewett to Cimarron Hills in the east.

    Here’s a list of some of the neighborhoods, based on census tracts, and their population losses in 2000-2010.

    Bonnyville ………………………………….. -5.3 percent

    Broadmoor …………………………………. -4.2

    Chapel Hills/Briargate ………………….. -4
    Cimarron Hills ……………………………. -8.3
                                   ……………………………. -2.3

    Cragmor …………………………………….. -7.4

    Dublin/Academy …………………………. -4.5

    Hillside ………………………………………. -5.3

    Holland Park ………………………………. -8.6

    Norwood ……………………………………. -3.7

    Old Farm ……………………………………. -1.7

    Old North End …………………………….. -5.4

    Palmer Park ………………………………… -8.2
                              ………………………………… -3.8

    Patty Jewett ………………………………… -11.3
                               ………………………………… -10

    Peregrine …………………………………….. -2.2

    Rockrimmon ……………………………….. -2.4

    Roswell ……………………………………….. -8.7

    Shooks Run ………………………………… -11.5

    Stratton Hills ………………………………. -10.2

    Stratton Meadows ……………………….. -17.5

    Village Seven  ………………………………. -6.5
                                 ……………………………….. -5.8

    West side ……………………………………. -9.3
                         ……………………………………. -8.3
                         ……………………………………. -5.7
                         ……………………………………. -5

    Woodland Hills/Briargate …………….. -8.8

    “It could be cyclical,” said Steve Tuck, a longtime city planner. “Most of those areas are fairly stable.

    “It could be we’re seeing an aging population with children leaving home. As a result, the average size of household is declining.”

    Check out this snapshot from the Census data. It is typical of the decline in children being seen in neighborhoods. The percentage of adults is jumping as the younger population plunges.

    El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark, a Westsider, said the numbers bolster the need to reinvest in older neighborhoods.

    “This really makes the argument for putting dollars into redeveloping older areas,” she said. “These areas have infrastructure issues. Some have been neglected for years. Curbs and gutters are crumbling.

     “If we really don’t want urban sprawl, we better pay attention to the core of the city. Don’t sacrifice the old for the new.”

    Here’s a look at the unincorporated Stratton Meadows neighborhood on the city’s southern edge:



    Wed, January 12, 2011 by Bill Vogrin with no comments


    Tami West in her backyard in Pioneer Village in Rancho Colorado subdivision south of Colorado Springs in 2005. By Carol Lawrence, the Gazette file

    Tami West doesn’t mind living on a desert. After all, Rancho Colorado isn’t much different with its barren sand hills, arroyos and cactus.

    Howeer, she doesn’t want to live on a desert island. But that’s kind of how it feels to her.

    She says the Army and El Paso County are turning the 50 or so homeowners in Pioneer Village, in the north section of the rural subdivision south of Colorado Springs on the Pueblo County border.

    The county, acting on behalf of the Pentagon, is buying vacant land in Rancho Colorado. Since 2005, it has bought about 120 lots and 937 acres at a cost of $4.1 million. Generally, it pays about $3,000 an acre.

    The idea is to stop development on the edges of the post and create a 1.5-mile buffer zone around Fort Carson. Here’s a look at the property purchased to date.

    Officials say 30 million old tires are buried up to 35 feet deep at a 58-acre dump in Midway, near Rancho Colorado subdivision. This is a September 2010 Gazette photo.

    Rancho Colorado sits behind the sprawling 553-acre Waste Management landfill, and the 58-acre dump where 30 million old tires are buried, as well as the 76-acre Black Hills Energy plant with its network of high-voltage powerlines and near the 200-acre Pikes Peak International Raceway track.

    And it is snug up against the southeast edge of Fort Carson. And just a half-mile from its artillery range.

    Can you say Ka-BOOM!

    Here’s another map of the neighborhood:

    Here’s a story we ran in 2005 as the county embarked on the program.

    And here’s a link to a website talking about other efforts to create a buffer zone using conservation easements and working in concert with the Nature Conservancy.

    Follow this link to an Army website talking about the buffer zone project. On the site, click on the link to “Army Compatible Use Buffers.”


    Sun, September 26, 2010 by Bill Vogrin with 2 comments



    The most consistent complaint I’ve heard over the years from neighborhoods is about barking dogs.

    Dog poop is a close second.

    But barking dogs top the list. My Sept. 26 column is about barking dogs and one neighbor’s reaction to it. In this case, the dog owners are deaf and didn’t realize the frustration it caused neighbors.

    It’s also a lesson about how to deal with barking dogs. The fellow most upset by the barking,  Rainer Steinbauer, never approached the dog owners about his issue. He didn’t even know their names. I suggested a knock on their door might have solved the problem before it escalated into hurt feelings all around.

    But I also wanted to raise awareness to the issue.

    Did you know it is illegal to allow chronic barking in Colorado Springs and in El Paso County

     Incessant barking is considered disturbing the peace of a city neighborhood. And it violates county ordinances to harbor such a disturbance. If your neighbor’s noisy pet is habitually disturbing you, please call the Humane Society at 473-1741 to learn about possible courses of action.

    Folks with dogs often say “dogs are going to bark” as if there’s nothing they can do about it. They typically describe complainers at hyper-sensitive.

    Victims often get very frustrated. Some of the nastiest neighborhood feuds I’ve seen over the years center on barking dogs.

    In fact, the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region gets upwards of 2,000 complaint calls a year about barking dogs.

    Experts have all sorts of advice to stop the barking. Some attribute chronic barking to boredom. They say the cure is more human interaction, toys or a companion dog.

    Some advocate barking collars, which administer an electric shock each time an animal barks. There are variations of the collar that allow the owner to administer a shock by remote control, as well.

    The marketplace also offers anti-barking devices that sense barking and emit an ultrasonic noise in response. Dogs hate the noise and the theory is that they will associate barking with pain and stop.

    A few recommend “debarking” surgery to remove a dog’s vocal cords. The Humane Society and other experts, however, denounce the surgery because it robs the animal of its voice.

    Still others suggest hiring an expert to diagnose the reason a dog is barking  to get solutions. There are certified applied animal behaviorists available to consult with dog owners.

    But it’s best not to ignore a barking dog complaint. They can lead to summons, covenant violations, lawsuits and even violence.

    Informal complaints will bring the Humane Society to your door. Formal complaints will initiate deeper agency involvement. 

    A victim who has witnesses and videotape of a chronic barking dog can land you in court.

    Then a judge may order the barking corrected. Or else.
    Here’s an interesting blog on the issue of debarking surgery. And this is an interesting debate of the question.

    Wed, September 15, 2010 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    The U.S. Census Bureau says most of the head-counting is done.

    Now, Pikes Peak-area goverments hope to start counting the tax dollars that will flow our way thanks to the above-average response of folks in El Paso County and Colorado Springs.

    About 74 percent of all households in the county responded to 2010 Census forms, exceeding the national average of 72 percent. Officials say that will translate into more federal tax dollars finding their way back to the region.

    El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark said each person counted is worth $900, roughly, in tax revenue.

    The Census — conducted every 10 years since 1790 – helps federal lawmakers determine how to distribute $400 billion in federal funding each year. (Whether or not is SHOULD spend all that money is another matter.)

     I’ll simply note the funding pays for things like:

    • Hospitals
    • Schools
    • Senior centers
    • Roads, bridges and other public-works projects
    • Emergency services

    Then there’s the issue of representation in Congress. Seats in the U.S. House follow population. That’s another big reason it’s important to get a full and accurate count. Ditto the Colorado General Assembly. You don’t get your fair share of state representatives if you don’t stand up and be counted.

    Some of the preliminary numbers are fascinating. You can slice and dice them by logging on to the Census Bureau’s American FactFinder  and searching by a variety of ways.

    Here’s  a column I wrote in April 2009 and a previous blog I wrote about it.



    Wed, June 2, 2010 by Bill Vogrin with 11 comments

    Developer Randy Scholl  wants to build 27 custom homes on 12 acres he owns a mile east of one of the busiest intersections in Colorado Springs: it’s the death trap known as Academy Boulevard and Austin Bluffs Parkway. 

    Here’s a look at the area from FlashEarth.com: 


     His land is part of a large unincorporated island, called an “enclave,” surrounded by dense city neighborhoods. 

    Ridge would be a small neighborhood of 27 custom homes on 12 acres if was allowed to build the project he proposed to El Paso County and to the planning department of Colorado Springs

    The homes would be on land newly annexed into the surrounding city. 

    Randy Scholl points toward the 12 acres where he wants to build 27 custom homes.

    Scholl wants the land annexed because he wants to provide the amenities offered by the city including sewer and water services as well as access to emergency services including police, fire and ambulance. 

    Austin Ridge would have about 27 homes on half-acre lots and enjoy spectacular views.

     But Scholl is being opposed by neighbors in Park Vista Estates, which makes up the bulk of the enclave. It is 385 acres of homes on half-acre lots or larger. 

    When the neighborhood was laid out 50 years or so ago, it was far out in the county. Everyone was on well water along with septic tanks. Roads have no sidewalks, curbs and gutters. 

     Or course, the city grew up around the neighborhood and now residents enjoy a slice of rural life in the city. Most — about 200 — even enjoy city water. They converted because they were limited on how much well water they could use. Now they are free to water away on their landscaping! 

    They also get emergency services from the city — fire and ambulance — without the burden of city taxes. Lucky for them. 

    So the neighbors, led by Marilyn Morgan, howled when Scholl’s project surfaced. They always thought his 12 acres was landlocked. Some didn’t like the idea of losing their “open space” to houses, planned to be built on an extension of Cedarmere Drive to the east. 

     They became especially upset when the city wanted Scholl to create a second access point — for emergency services — and he proposed linking to Copper Drive to the south through Park Vista. 


    Scholl said he would improve the safety of Copper Drive by fixing a blind curve. And he’d make other improvements.

    But he doesn’t want to fight. He’s redrawing his plans to build fewer homes — about 20 – on larger lots and only use Cedarmere. But he must convince the city to allow him a single access. 

    Randy Scholl shows the new plans for Austin Ridge.

    Scholl said he understand why some might be upset about a few more cars on their road. But he doesn’t believe the extra cars would create that much traffic. And any inconvenience would be outweighed by the increased safety – both improving the blind curve and for the 27 homes — created by the extra access. 

    As part of his project, Randy School would eliminate a blind curve where Copper Drive meets Emerald Road.

    Scholl said he intends to try to convince the city to let him build a smaller project and drop the second access point on Copper Drive.



    Wed, May 5, 2010 by Bill Vogrin with 45 comments

    Prairie Vista Meadows is one of dozens of subdivisions scattered around the outskirts of Colorado Springs in eastern El Paso County

    It’s just 63 lots, carved out of former ranchland, where folks trying to get away from the city go and buy five-acre ranchettes

    Sometimes, they envision themselves as gentlemen farmers, with a horse or a cow or maybe another farm animal or two. 


    One of the big selling points is the spectacular views they enjoy of Pikes Peak and the Front Range from their vantage 10 miles or more from downtown Springs. 

    But folks trying to get away from the city sometimes take their issues with them to the countryside. 

     That’s the case at Prairie Vista Meadows where a couple homeowners are complaining about the homeowners association, covenants and architectural control committee governing life in the subdivision. 

    They are angry that the rules limit the number and types of farm animals to just two horses or cows. 

    Homeowner Chris Meier wanted a llama to guard his two cows from coyotes that roam the plains. And a goat would be nice. Or maybe some chickens. He wants his eight children involved in 4H programs and that might mean raising any variety of barnyard animals. 

    Neighbor Shannon Rogers wanted a third horse to go with her original two.  And maybe a horse arena. And she wants to store a trailer behind a screen of Blue Spruce trees.

    Noreen and Craig McConnell

    Both said they were misled by developer Craig McConnell to believe the HOA would be relaxed and willing to waive covenants and let them bend the rules. 

    McConnell sells real estate with his wife, Noreen, through Avalar Real Estate Solutions in Falcon

    McConnell said they misunderstood. He said the rules are the rules. Most of the 24 homeowners in Prairie Vista Meadows like the rules and want them enforced. He said five-acre lots are not big enough to allow many animals. 

    Here is a look at the subdivision from the El Paso County Assessor’s website: 

     McConnell said he’s trying to maintain the quality of the development by enforcing the covenants. He accuses Meier of wanting to take control of the HOA and rewrite the covenants to suit his lifestyle. 

    He says Meier has been out of compliance with covenants since he moved in last June for failing to paint his barn and for not screening his RV behind a fence or in a building, as rules require. 

    Meier counters that he likes the covenants and simply wants residents of the neighborhood to control the HOA, not a developer and his partners who don’t live in Prairie Vista Meadows. 

    The moral of the story is a classic: read everything before you buy and get all promises in writing. 


  • ARE THESE ATTORNEYS NUTS? They actually let me serve on a jury!

    Wed, March 31, 2010 by Bill Vogrin with 3 comments

    There’s a cliche about jury duty.

    Only a chump gets stuck serving on a jury.

    Anyone with any brains, so it goes, can get themselves excused.

    Well I may be proof of the cliche.

    This chump served on a jury.

    And it was a blast!

    A couple weeks ago, I received a summons in the mail.

    I admit I had doubts about serving. I thought briefly about concocting a good reason to be excused.

    Don’t get me wrong. Unlike some, I always wanted to serve on a jury. I’ve spent years in courtrooms as a reporter, covering trials. I even testified as an eye-witness in an attempted murder trial. I’m proud to say I helped put a guy away for 25 years to life!

    But I didn’t look forward to spending a long, boring day at the El Paso County Courthouse.

    Experience has taught me that reporters never are chosen for juries. We always get bounced from the pool.

    But rather than beg off, I reported to the Jury Commissioner‘s office in the courthouse.

    There, I met about 300 people waiting in line, filling out forms, reading magazines, watching TV and otherwise killing time.

    But before long I heard my name called and off I went to the fourth floor and the courtroom of Judge Christopher E. Acker.

    There, I was seated with 11 other potential jurors.

    He gave us a basic overview of the proceedings. We were going to decide a criminal domestic dispute.

    A woman claimed her ex-husband — they were married 20 years and had three children — had violated a mutually agreed upon “no contact” clause in a court protection order.

    Acker turned us over to the prosecutors and a defense attorney for questioning. During the Q & A, we learned two of the four women in the jury pool had been convicted of domestic violence. A third woman had worked as a paralegal in the prosecutor’s office. As I expected, they were excused along with the fourth woman along with two men.

    Shocking to me, I survived and got to hear the case with five other men: Jim Reeder, a high-tech expert, George the retired teacher, Kevin the retired Navy officer, Craig the cellphone sales exec and Ben the teacher/musician.

    El Paso County Judge Christopher E. Acker

    It was a great experience. Ours was a classic “he said, she said” domestic dispute. Our immediate verdict was unanimous: the man was stupid.

    But, we also agreed there was reasonable doubt about whether a crime had been committed. We didn’t think he intended to break the law. And the judge had told us intent was an element we were to consider.

    I appreciated the thoughtful work of my fellow jurors. I enjoyed meeting them and getting to know a little about each of them. In fact, I’d enjoy hoisting a cold beer with them someday!

    And it chipped away the skepticism I previous held toward juries. Ours was serious-minded and determined to get to the truth. And I’d like to think they were a pretty representative group of all juries.

    Thanks, guys!