By Lisa Young
Mesa County chief deputy district attorney Bo Zeerip is preparing to step into a new position as the 7th Judicial District Court Judge in Delta. Zeerip will replace retiring Judge Jin Ho Pack effective Jan. 12, 2021.
As a trial lawyer and prosecutor for almost 14 years, Zeerip believes his past court experiences will help him fill the vacancy left by Pack.
“A prosecutor has the same goal as a judge and that’s to do justice. They come at it from a little different perspective, a prosecutor is an advocate for the prosecution of course and is supposed to do justice and that’s what a judge is supposed to do as well.”
The thought of becoming a judge began “flittering in the back of his mind” after taking a school aptitude test. Zeerip said he scored high in becoming a lawyer, judge and game show host.
“I obviously did not go the game show host route so here I am,” quipped Zeerip.
The new judge said he expects to feel right at home in rural Delta County having grown up in a similar environment where his mother was a school teacher and his father a machine shop worker and later a small business owner.
The thought of becoming a judge growing up amongst a family of blue collar workers, farmers and truck drivers seemed a far reach; however, Zeerip enjoyed the judicial side of the law during college and began having aspirations toward becoming a judge taking classes on the judicial side, the history of law, the philosophy of law and two classes on Constitutional law from differing perspectives.
“I enjoyed the trial classes, the in court classes, the rules of evidence, the rules of procedure. Those were the classes I really enjoyed in law school. It was then that I began to feel that being a judge would be the ultimate of a legal career,” said Zeerip who applied for a judgeship six times in the last four years.
Zeerip said the process starts with submitting an application packet to the state which moves it on to a local bi-partisan nominating commission made up primarily of lay people who then make a recommendation and send it back to the state.
Following the state submission, interviews are held with a state supreme court justice present to guide the process then names are sent to the governor’s office for final selection. The governor’s office interviews the candidates again, next they notify the candidates typically within 10 days.
Zeerip said he was pulling out of his driveway when he received the news that he was selected to become the next judge in the 7th Judicial District.
The news was especially exciting for Zeerip since he has deep ties to the 7th Judicial District. His wife Rebekah grew up in Norwood, his father-in-law worked in law enforcement in Montrose County and his mother-in-law worked for the district attorney’s office in San Miguel County.
“Because of my upbringing, I grew up in the country on some acreage, I am used to rural country living. It suits me well. I am looking forward to living it,” said Zeerip, who will relocate to Delta County with his wife and five children ages 10 to 17.
The new judge said his family will continue to homeschool and maintain a fun lifestyle including traveling, snowmobiling, hiking, hunting and eating good food.
On his journey to becoming a judge, Zeerip said he’s “judged judges” throughout the years not only on their rulings, courtroom demeanor but also on who they are as a person.
“Time will tell what my courtroom will be like,” Zeerip said, “I don’t think I will be on the formal side of things but there does need to be some respect and formality to the judicial proceedings. Certainly there needs to be order and there needs to be some efficiency, that will be a challenge because I looked at the open cases here in Delta County and there are over a thousand cases right now open in county court.”
Over the years Zeerip has gained a reputation as an advocate of understanding the importance of bonding and pretrial release within the judicial system.
“Under our Constitution and legal principles people who are accused of crimes are presumed innocents. I understand as a community member, as a father, as a prosecutor that when someone is arrested and accused of a crime quite often there’s a lot of evidence against them and the tendency of us as citizens, as people in the community, as prosecutors, as law enforcement ... is to rush to judgement and assume that they are going to be guilty and that they will be (should) be punished and we want to do that now before they are actually convicted and we can’t do that,” Zeerip said.
The soon-to-be-judge said we really need to allow the judicial system to “do its job, to give defendants their due process.” Zeerip added that crime victims also have due process rights but not in the same way as defendants do.
“During the pretrial period we can’t keep somebody in jail as punishment, however the United States Supreme Court has said there are two instances where people can be detained pretrial. One if they are a substantial risk of flight to avoid prosecution not just missed a court date but actually avoiding prosecution and two, if the person is substantial risk to harm another person if released pretrial,” he said.
“Everybody else that doesn’t fall into those two categories must be released pretrial and the other thing I’ve learned is that making somebody pay money pretrial doesn’t help anything ... it’s a myth that bond money actually helps anybody except may be the bondsmen,” Zeerip said.
After earning his B.S. from Central Michigan University in 1992 and his J.D. from Regent University in 1997 Zeerip worked as an associate at Bendinelli Law Office P.C. until 2000. Following his time there, he served as counsel and CFO for Grace Community Church until 2007. He served as deputy district attorney for Mesa County in 2008 before being promoted to chief deputy district attorney.