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Mancos gets new municipal court judge

Michael Wanger was selected as the new municipal court judge in Mancos. (Courtesy Michael Wanger)
Durango prosecutor Michael Wanger to begin role March 14

Michael Wanger was named as the new municipal court judge in Mancos, and will begin his two-year term March 14.

“I just wanted to try being a judge. I've never done that before,” he told The Journal. “That interests me, and so I applied for the position. Fortunately, I got it.”

He said he has robust experience as a lawyer and as a person.

Wanger has practiced law in Durango since 1986. Apart from his private law practice, Wanger serves as one of two prosecutors for the City of Durango and as the special prosecutor for the Southern Ute Tribe.

While he has a long track record of defense, becoming a prosecutor in Durango in 2019 lent him a different perspective on law.

“I'm seeing it from the other side now... Because here, instead of trying to find ways to get people out of trouble, you're trying to hold them accountable for what they've done, and so that's a different approach,” he said.

He drew similarities between the Durango city court and that of Mancos, saying that he has primarily handled cases involving traffic tickets, trespassing, shoplifting and dogs at large.

Wanger has done appellate work in district court, the court of appeals, the Colorado Supreme Court and tribal appeals court. He has also volunteered as a court mediator in county court and small claims court cases.

Wanger grew up in the Bronx in New York City. He attended New York University for two years before earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology at Hunter College. He moved to Durango at 24 after a brief stint in Steamboat Springs.

He moved away from Durango only to attend law school at the University of Montana.

He doesn’t miss New York.

“It’s everything that you see on TV and worse and more,” he joked.

Wanger was chosen over Beth Padilla, who will act as substitute municipal judge as needed.

Padilla presides as court judge in both Cortez and Dolores municipal courts.

Wanger currently serves on the La Plata Family Centers Coalition board. He has also held positions on the boards of the La Plata County Humane Society, City of Durango Land Use and Development Code Board of Adjustment, Sixth Judicial District Nominating Commission, and the Tri Country Head Start Board of Directors.

Wanger has teaching experience, having taught classes at Pueblo Community College from 1991 to 1996, and more recently, from 2014 to 2016. In the 1970s and 1980s, he instructed at Shiprock Alternative High School and acted as a substitute teacher for the Durango School District 9-R.

And, he has a little bit of a background in dance. He taught country swing dancing at Fort Lewis College and Farquahrt’s, and was an extra playing a dancer in the 1978 movie Avalanche filmed at Purgatory Resort in Durango.

“It was really funny. We were dancing but they didn't have any music playing,” he said.

Mancos municipal court is held the second Monday of each month.

Wanger will receive $250 a month for the role.

“Generally, the Town prefers to hire local talent from Montezuma County. Ultimately, due to the nature of the position, the interview panel felt that having a judge from a different county would offer the utmost in transparency to the public,” reads a Feb. 9 staff report from Mancos Town Administrator Heather Alvarez to the town board.