SAGUACHE — In a ceremony officiated by Chief Judge for the 12th Judicial District Judge Michael Gonzales, attorney Craig Schuenemann was sworn in as the 22nd judge to serve Saguache County since the county was formed in 1866.
Schuenemann was appointed to the position by Gov. Jared Polis after being one of two finalists recommended by the 12th Judicial Nominating Committee, charged with nominating a new judge when Judge Anna Ulrich stepped down to go into private practice.
Schuenemann brings to the bench a distinguished career. Born in a “typical blue collar family” in a small town in Wisconsin, Schuenemann exceled in high school in both sports and academics. Upon graduation from high school, he applied and was accepted to attend the United States Naval Academy.
While at the Academy, he played on the Navy football team and then, following several injuries, switched and became a member of the Navy’s wrestling team. Schuenemann graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Economics from the Naval Academy in 1999. His performance at the Academy qualified him for acceptance in the Naval Flight School, where he ultimately completed training in 2001.
Scheunemann went on to fly helicopters — specifically the Navy’s Seahawk helicopters, which is the equivalent of the famous “Blackhawk” helicopter flown in the U.S. Army.
“A 20-something kid being entrusted to fly a $20 million helicopter says a lot about Craig Scheunemann’s character,” Judge Gonzales said.
Scheunemann was deployed overseas as a helicopter pilot several times, including South America where he flew missions related to drug interdiction plus an eight-month deployment supporting combat operations in Iraq.
In 2005, Scheunemann continued his service as an active duty Naval officer at the Pentagon where he served as the military assistant to the General Counsel of the Navy. During this time, Scheunemann decided to go to law school, attending George Washington University Law School — one of the most prestigious law schools in the nation. After three years spent working at the Pentagon during the day and attending law school at night, Scheunemann earned his J.D. from GWU in 2008.
After graduating from law school, Scheunemann headed west to Nevada where he clerked for the Honorable Charles Weller in Nevada’s Second Judicial District. Upon completing his clerkship in 2009, Scheunemann entered private practice working for several law firms along Colorado’s Front Range.
“While living in Denver, Judge Scheunemann fell in love with the outdoors,” Judge Gonzales said, “and has spent a decade coming to the San Luis Valley. He and his family moved to Saguache a year ago.”
Gonzales went on to describe the “job” of being a judge, which involves being patient, open-minded, compassionate and firm, humble and common sense.
“Judge Scheunemann may be new but he has a passion for the San Luis Valley,” Gonzales said.
At the podium, Scheunemann, who stands a good head taller than anyone in proximity, thanked all those who had both welcomed and supported him. He then spoke of “those who have questioned his choice” to become a judge. “Why am I so excited despite all the skeptics? Because Saguache is a special place – the people, the geography, the environment,” he said, adding that everywhere he has gone in Saguache, people have reached out to engage him in conversation.
Scheunemann also listed several other motivators, the most noteworthy being his desire to “return to service” and the opportunity to “be part of something bigger than himself” that he had experienced in earlier years in his career.
“This job has meaning,” he said, “and it can be done right…it involves action not rhetoric and can impact people’s lives and make those lives better.”
“County court is the people’s court,” Judge Gonzales said. “What people experience in county court forms their opinion about the judicial system. And the people of Saguache are in good hands with Judge Scheunemann.”
On behalf of all the judges in the 12th Judicial District, Judge Gonzales welcomed Judge Scheunemann to the bench, stating they were pleased to have a person of his quality in the 12th district.