El Paso County's top judge to retire, requiring new judge to preside in Robert Dear case

March 14, 2017 Updated: March 15, 2017 at 6:14 am
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photo - Gilbert Martinez (File photo by Linda Navarro)
Gilbert Martinez (File photo by Linda Navarro)  

El Paso County's top judge will retire this summer, spurring a search for someone new to preside over the case of admitted Planned Parenthood shooter Robert Lewis Dear Jr.

Fourth Judicial District Chief Judge Gilbert Martinez, a nearly three-decade veteran of the local bench, submitted his retirement notice in late February, he confirmed Wednesday. His retirement becomes effective July 31.

"I have been on the bench since 1989, thus it is time," he said.

Martinez has presided over the Planned Parenthood case since shortly after Dear's Nov. 27, 2015, surrender, when the Hartsel anti-abortion zealot proudly claimed credit for killing three people and wounding nine during a five-hour rampage at the city's only Planned Parenthood clinic.

The question of who will assume the mantle in the stalled case - which remains on hold while the 58-year-old Dear is treated at the Colorado State Mental Health Institute at Pueblo - will be decided by the new chief judge, Martinez said.

A successor will be appointed from the 4th Judicial District bench, comprising El Paso and Teller counties, said Rob McCallum, a spokesman for the state court system.

Candidates will sit for interviews with Chief Supreme Court Justice Nancy Rice and the state court administrator, and Rice will make the appointment, McCallum said

Chief judges occupy a key administrative role in each judicial district, supervising other judges and assigning them an area of practice - criminal, civil, domestic or juvenile law, or some combination of those subjects. The chief judge also presides over a large roster of court employees, including probation personnel and the court clerk's office.

Martinez is a Colorado native, born in Trinidad and raised in the Denver area, according to a biography on the state judicial branch website.

He attended the University of Colorado and served as a public defender from 1978 to 1989, directing the Colorado Springs Public Defender's Office for four of those years. He was appointed to the District Court bench in 1989.

Martinez previously served as chief judge in the 4th Judicial District from 1994 to 2007. He was reappointed to the top slot in 2012, after the retirement of Kirk Samelson.

His work on the bench made him and his family targets in 2001, when authorities say a disgruntled petitioner in a divorce case took up a sniper position and fired a rifle into Martinez's Colorado Springs home, narrowly missing his head as he sat on the couch.

The shooting - together with a separate attack that partially blinded divorce lawyer John Cicollela in 2002 and another one that killed the shooter's ex-wife's former lover in 2008 - made Martinez an unwitting player in a decade-spanning police investigation that ultimately led to the arrest of a Lockheed Martin software engineer who had been suspected all along.

That man, Bruce J. Nozolino, was convicted of all counts in 2014 and sentenced to life in prison without parole plus 288 years.

Martinez, married with two grown children, plans to apply to the senior judge program, which involves filling in for other judges when they are on vacation or otherwise unavailable. He plans to take a trip to Spain and to spend time with his grandchildren.

"Also, there are some fish at Eleven Mile Reservoir that have my name on them," he said.

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