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Professional Spotlight: 2020 CWBA Judicial Excellence Honoree Chief Judge Emily Anderson

2020 CWBA Judicial Excellence Honoree Chief Judge Emily Anderson has always been artistic. As a fine arts major at Colorado College, Judge Anderson was exposed to artists, curators, art dealers, and others in the profession. What she came to find during her studies, was that they all had legal issues, whether it was not being paid by a gallery owner or a landlord-tenant dispute. Realizing this, Judge Anderson formed a plan to go to San Francisco or New York to represent artists as an entertainment lawyer. However, she ended up taking a detour to become a litigator. The mentorship of a family law attorney while in law school at the University of Denver College of Law showed her that she wanted to help people find solutions. She knew she wanted to litigate and see inside the courtroom. During this time, Judge Anderson also met the love of her life, Patty Jarzobski (her partner and wife for 33 years now). Patty had a job offer in Colorado, clinching Judge Anderson’s decision to stay in Colorado instead of moving to San Francisco or New York following graduation from law school.

Judge Anderson’s career in private practice was highlighted by work on a series of trailblazing cases. In 1999, working with Barbara Lavender in Boulder, she handled a petition to put two people of the same sex on a birth certificate for twins. She did this first in Boulder and then Denver, and ultimately handled dozens of cases. At the time, the person with the genetic connection to the child was perceived to have greater rights to the children. This ground-breaking work paved the way for LGBTQ+ parents to have equal access and rights to their kids. The issue was in fact so political, that the governor was alerted when the decision came down and the Attorney General attempted to intervene and stop the order, but was not successful. As Judge Anderson notes, the climate at the time was oppressive, with Amendment 2 having been approved in 1992. Amendment 2 prohibited the state from enacting anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people.

After 11 years with a successful law practice, Judge Anderson was at a CWBA convention and attended a Friday-night dinner with other members. A judge at the dinner table mentioned that there was a part-time magistrate job available in Denver. The tricky part is that the applications were due the following Monday! Judge Anderson excitedly pulled together her application, and she got the job. She continued her law practice along with her new position. Judge Anderson was also doing a lot of mediation at the time, having received her ADR training in 1997. She was encouraged by others to apply for a full-time magistrate position in Adams County in 2005, which she also got. She later applied for a judgeship in Denver County Court and was short listed twice. During this time, Judge Anderson also experienced a number of changes in her life. Her dad passed away suddenly and her mom, who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, moved to an assisted living facility in Broomfield, Colorado so she and Patty could help take care of her. She and Patty decided to move everything North to be close to Judge Anderson’s mother. Judge Anderson also felt strong ties to the community in Adams County, and she decided to apply for a position in the 17th Judicial District. Governor Hickenlooper appointed her to the bench as a district court judge in 2014. After all these changes, Judge Anderson noted, “It was as though all of the doors started to open.” She realized she was where she needed to be. Judge Anderson admits that, as an LGBTQ+ judicial officer in Adams County, she initially felt like a fish out of water. In Adams, she didn’t know any other LGBTQ+ people, while Denver was more diverse and inclusive. If you know Judge Anderson, she optimistically realized she could diversify and improve the district she had begun to love and is very proud that she helped in this endeavor. Judge Anderson became chief judge of the 17th Judicial District in 2019 and led the district through the pandemic transition.

In 2021, Judge Anderson made the transition from courtroom judge to a mediator and arbiter with JAG, Judicial Arbiter Group, Inc. As a judge, Judge Anderson explains that she was either deciding cases or guiding a jury to decide the outcome. Now, she is thrilled to again be helping and guiding attorneys and parties to find solutions as a mediator. She also serves an arbiter and as a judge pro tem (appointed by the Colorado Supreme Court) and is the decision-maker in these cases. Judge Anderson enjoys “exercising all of her judicial muscles” in her position with JAG. Without the same constraints of being a district court judge, she is freer to share compliments and strategies with attorneys and talk openly and candidly to the parties. As a judge, it was always a priority to Judge Anderson for people to feel seen and heard, which was often more important than the decision itself. Her work with JAG is similar, but she gets to dive deeper into the issues and interact with folks in a very meaningful way. Judge Anderson is known as empathetic, showing great care and compassion, skills she brings into the room at JAG.

Judge Anderson devotes considerable time to the Colorado Judicial Peer-to-Peer program and serves on the Executive Board. She is currently mentoring two judicial officers on her own, and a third through Peer-to-Peer. Judge Anderson is a frequent speaker and lecturer. She made numerous videos for the judicial branch, trained new judicial officers at annual trainings, and volunteered for COLAP and Colorado Lawyers Helping Lawyers for many years, assisting attorneys with substance abuse and mental health issues.

Judge Anderson is most proud of her long career as a dedicated public servant. Whether as a part-time traffic judge or as chief judge, Judge Anderson has enjoyed all of these roles and gave them all the same intense energy. She takes pride in this over and above the many awards she has received.

Judge Anderson credits her wife, Patty Jarzobski, as the greatest inspiration in her legal career.

Starting in law school, when Judge Anderson at one time contemplated leaving school, Patty encouraged her to finish school, sit for the bar, and then decide how she wanted to proceed in her career. Judge Anderson says that Patty possesses all of the qualities of a great lawyer and is an incredible leader, and they have great conversations about the law and litigation strategies. Patty has been a great support of Judge Anderson being a public servant, even when it changed their ability to travel or do other things. Patty is “100 percent that person for me.”

Judge Anderson finds truth in the Brené Brown quote, “If you want to be happy, stop trying to be perfect.” She found that in her career, she never had enough time and had to learn to juggle lots of balls. Often, judicial officers are asked to do the job of two people, and it’s challenging to get everything done. Judge Anderson’s mantra is staying true to herself and not trying to be someone she’s not. She advises judicial applicants, “Don’t try to be someone you’re not in the application.”

For those who may be interested in joining the bench, Judge Anderson says that it is a very rewarding and intellectually challenging job. There is also a great deal of collegiality if you find it and maintain it, along with enormous opportunities to grow in leadership. However, she cautions that it is not a soft place to land in your career. There is a great deal of pressure to make great decisions in high-stakes cases such as divorce, taking away a person’s freedom, or taking a child from a parent. It is not a job to be taken lightly. However, it is a wonderful career option if you’re up to analyzing complex issues and making tough decisions.

When asked to describe the judicial application process, Judge Anderson relates that she has guided dozens of people through the process. She emphasizes that the application has to be perfect, with no typos and absolutely complete, because you don’t get an interview if the application isn’t good. Candidates should not expect to get the job the first time. You have to be prepared to give it all you’ve got several times, and it may take two, or many, applications. These odds make sense, when you compare the small number of available judicial positions and the large number of applicants hoping to become a judge. However, Judge Anderson is quick to say that the process is worthwhile.

Judge Anderson first began her involvement with the CWBA when a colleague in her office space took her to a Professional Advancement Committee meeting. She subsequently attended convention and ended up chairing the Convention Committee four times! Judge Anderson worked her way up to president elect, but ultimately had to decline the presidency because she became a full-time judge. She also served on the CWBA Foundation board in numerous capacities and worked on the very first Raising the Bar Dinner. Judge Anderson says she “grew up in the CWBA and learned to be a leader there.” She met some of her dearest friends through the CWBA, and the CWBA has supported her at every step in her career. Judge Anderson has been on the board of other bars, such as the LGBTQ and Denver bars; however, she found a home in the CWBA and she cherishes the relationships she has formed there.

Judge Anderson found that through the CWBA, she was able to be in the legal community doing good work for the community. She was surrounded by the best and brightest in the legal community. This helped her balance her personal and professional lives because she was happiest doing those activities. Judge Anderson emphasizes that her involvement with the CWBA has been more influential than any other activity in her career.

Judge Anderson’s incredible career journey has not always been easy. She grew up in the chaos of an alcoholic family. Her father went to AA and got sober when she was 17. When learning about sobriety and addiction, she found the Serenity Prayer. She painted the Serenity Prayer for her dad, which he put in his office at home: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Judge Anderson says the prayer at least once a day to stay in a place of gratitude. While building her law career, Judge Anderson lost a brother in a car accident, lost her father when she became a district court judge, and cared for her mom for eight years as her mom battled Alzheimer’s. Judge Anderson stresses that it’s so important to be involved with something like the CWBA, to have support systems in place as well as a place to give back. The CWBA was always there for her during challenges.

Outside of the law, Judge Anderson is getting back into art. She has been drawing, using lots of new art tools like watercolor pens. She also plays piano and the ukulele. She and Patty enjoy fly fishing, camping, and paddleboarding and are happiest when on any kind of water. Their Goldens, Malibu and Brandy, are a high priority. Judge Anderson finds that she resets when in nature, and she enjoys taking advantage of all that Colorado has to offer.


Kate Noble is a CWBA Publications Committee member and a legal editor with Colorado Bar Association CLE, the nonprofit educational arm of the Colorado and Denver Bar Associations.

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