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Evergreen resident becomes district court judge

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By Vicky Gits

She fills the vacancy created by the resignation of M.J. Menendez, who returned to the U.S. attorney’s office in Denver after two years on the bench.

Phillips worked as a civil lawyer for a private law firm for four years out of law school but since then has been in government.

“I’m really excited (about becoming a judge),” Phillips said. “I’m a law geek. I think it’s just fascinating. I tell my friends, and they can’t believe the things that happen in a courtroom.

“What I like is the intellectual challenge and civil law. There are a lot of areas that I want to learn about other than criminal. I like case analysis even after 20 years,” Phillips said.

Phillips started seriously cycling a couple of years ago after she cut down on long-distance running and has completed the Triple Bypass, the Elephant Rock Ride and the Copper Triangle. She likes to go bike riding at lunchtime.

Phillips moved to Evergreen in 1990 and built a house in Hiwan. She has two children, who both graduated from Evergreen schools. She is married to Zak Phillips, an assistant U.S. attorney, and they have a house in Troutdale.

Phillips wound up in law school after getting a taste of being a law enforcement ranger for the National Park Service in Yosemite Park.

She grew up in national parks around the country as the offspring of parents who worked for the Forest Service. She was born in a trailer park in Moose, Wyo.

As a kid, she lived in Death Valley when Edward Abbey was an unknown author working on the book “Desert Solitaire” and driving a school bus.

“He was kind of grouchy as a driver. We weren’t that impressed,” she said.

She also lived in Mount Rainier and Sequoia & Kings Canyon parks.

Neither of her parents was a college grad, but Phillips always did well in school and was able to put herself through junior college. She was a top volleyball player and won a scholarship that paid tuition and books at the University of California in Riverside.

Phillips is the chief deputy district attorney in the 1st Judicial District and supervises four felony courtrooms and eight district attorneys.

She is one of seven district attorneys who must respond to any suspicious death to assist law enforcement, review warrants and ensure evidence is preserved.

She will preside over a mixed criminal and civil docket from Courtroom 5A on the fifth floor of the Jefferson County Courts and Administration Building.

Phillips has been working as a lawyer since earning her law degree from the University of Colorado in 1989. She has been with Jefferson County since 1993, when former district attorney Dave Thomas hired her as a deputy district attorney.

She was a prosecutor in traffic court, juvenile court and in 1995 was promoted to district court, averaging seven to 10 felony trials a year. In 1997 she was the lead attorney in the felony domestic violence unit, responsible for training DAs and law enforcement officers. She has tried numerous violent felony cases, including a vehicular homicide.

The initial term of office is a provisional term of two years and then until the second Tuesday in January following the next general election. If retained by the voters the term of district court judge is six years. The annual salary is $128,000.

Phillips will be sworn in Aug. 28 and starts wearing the robe on Aug. 31.