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Ian MacLaren sworn in as judge in Dolores County’s 22nd Judicial District

Chief Judge Todd Plewe of the 22nd Judicial District swears in Ian MacLaren to the Dolores County Court on June 3. (Thomas R. Williamson/Courtesy photo)
MacLaren also serves as the Montezuma County attorney

Montezuma County attorney Ian MacLaren of Dolores was sworn in June 3 as a part-time judge in Dolores County Court in the 22nd Judicial District in Dove Creek.

MacLaren has held the position of Montezuma County attorney since 2021, according to the news release from the Governor’s Office. He also has held the position of Dove Creek Municipal Court judge since 2023.

When the position opened toward the end of 2022, MacLaren said he applied immediately.

After interviews, MacLaren was one of the two other finalists who were sent to Denver to meet with Gov. Jared Polis, who appointed MacLaren to the position on May 1.

“I interviewed with the governor’s team up there, and then the governor called me and said that he was appointing me,” MacLaren said. “I was really excited. I’ve always, in the back of my mind, thought that being a judge would be a great opportunity to make a difference in the community and positively impact the community. So when I got the call from the governor, it was really exciting because in some ways it had been a dream of mine for a long time to ascend to the bench and serve as a judge.

Judge Ian MacLaren was appointed to the bench of the 22nd Judicial District Court in Dove Creek on May 1, effective June 1, according to a news release from Gov. Jared Polis. (Thomas R. Williamson/Courtesy photo)
Chief Judge Todd Plewe on June 3 swore in Ian MacLaren to the bench of the 22nd Judicial District in Dove Creek. (Thomas R. Williamson/Courtesy photo)

MacLaren started representing the Montezuma County Department of Social Services in child dependency and neglect cases in 2016.

“During that time, I gained a lot of experience in court and gained a lot of insight into the hurdles that families and kids face when they become involved in the criminal justice system,” MacLaren said. “I don’t know if there was any single memorable case, but that time of my career certainly provided me with a lot of insight as to just how difficult the judicial system can be to navigate for people who aren’t familiar with the ways that courts work.”

So far, MacLaren’s time as the county attorney has begun to allow him to do just that.

“In my role as county attorney, I’ve had a lot of opportunities and have gotten a lot of practice in communicating judicial concepts to clients that aren’t involved in the legal system every day,” MacLaren said. “I think that’s probably been the most important or the most interesting part of the job, trying to learn to communicate in a way that my clients can appreciate and understand.”

It was through these cases that MacLaren realized that he wanted to work as a judge someday.

“I think that the work that I did there really, in a way, pointed me in the direction of wanting to eventually become a judge and try to act in a way from the bench that would allow people to better understand what they were dealing with when they become involved in the court system, and try to communicate to people involved in the criminal justice in a way that they would be able to understand,” MacLaren said.

County courts handle civil cases under $25,000, as well as misdemeanors, traffic related crimes, felony complaints, protection orders and small claims, according to the Colorado judicial branch. County case decisions can be appealed in district court.

MacLaren’s first scheduled docket came up Wednesday.

“I thought it went really well. I think that any time you start a new position, there’s always a learning curve,” MacLaren said. “I have a lot to learn, but that’s something that’s going to make it really fun, having the opportunity to learn and grow and make a positive impact in a community which I really care about.”

MacLaren said he hopes that he can bring “consistent impartiality” to the bench.

“I think I’m hoping to bring as a judge consistent impartiality, and I think that’s incredibly important from the bench to be impartial and ethical and unbiased, and that’s something that I really want to do,” MacLaren said. “I think in addition to that, I really want to communicate with people who are involved in the system and involved in my court in a way that they’re able to understand.”

MacLaren grew up in the Dolores and Cortez area. After graduating from Montezuma-Cortez High School in 2005, MacLaren received his bachelor’s of history at College of the Holy Cross, where he also swam for the Division I school’s varsity men’s swim team.

From there, MacLaren attended Gonzaga University School of Law, graduating with his law degree in 2012. He worked as a law clerk for a few months in Spokane, Washington, after his graduation before making his way back to Cortez.

While settling down in Cortez, MacLaren became sports editor and reporter for The Journal for two years, and coached the Cortez Leopard Sharks swim team and the Montezuma-Cortez High School women’s swim team.

Under MacLaren’s coaching, both teams reached new heights, with nearly all of the high school records falling to MacLaren’s swimmers. Many of the high school records had not been broken in more than 10 years, and the Panthers also qualified for the state championship meet.

MacLaren now is head coach of the Dove Creek High School boys basketball team.

In 2021, MacLaren was hired as the Montezuma County attorney, working primarily as legal adviser for the Montezuma County Board of County Commissioners. His duties in that position include researching and interpreting the law in areas such as child protection, adult protection, natural resources, contracts, road, taxes, budgeting, elections, employment, open meetings, public records and constitutional issues.