New judge wants to continue Fernandez-Ely’s legacy
Ashley Andrews didn’t graduate from law school with any aspirations of being a judge one day.
But in the two-and-a-half years she spent as a public defender in Pitkin County courts, Andrews said she has been able to observe how longtime Pitkin County Judge Erin Fernandez-Ely positively affected and helped people, and that changed her mind.
“I saw the impact Judge Ely could make on the community,” Andrews said Friday. “I was worried that wouldn’t continue (after she retires). I think she’s been an asset to the community and I wanted to continue the atmosphere she created.”
Gov. Jared Polis named Andrews, 36, as Fernandez-Ely’s replacement last week after a local nominating commission forwarded her name and that of another local lawyer to him in early September. Fernandez-Ely – who couldn’t be reached for comment Friday – will retire Oct. 31 after 21 years as Pitkin County judge, and Andrews will take over her seat on the bench Nov. 1.
Andrews came to the state Public Defender’s Office in Glenwood Springs in 2019 after working in the Denver Public Defender Office for six years. She and her husband, Kevin Giles, met during their first year of law school at the University of Colorado and decided after a few years in the city that they wanted to raise their two daughters in a small community.
“I can tell you it was the best decision we ever made,” said Andrews, who lives in Snowmass Village. “I think it’s a great place to raise kids. I love that they can be outside all the time – that we can be outside all the time. We have these little mountain babies.”
Andrews was born in Corvalis, Oregon and grew up there and Eugene before moving to Columbus, Ohio in middle school when her college professor parents were hired at Ohio State University. She attended Penn State University – for no other reason than it seemed like a classic college atmosphere, she said – then volunteered for Teach for America after receiving her undergraduate degree.
At the time, Teach for America – part of AmeriCorps – was setting up a new program in Denver, and Andrews was assigned in 2007 to teach English to Spanish-speaking students at Maxwell Elementary School in the city’s Montbello neighborhood near the airport. Her first day on the job, with no teaching experience, she faced 32 first-graders – most of whom hadn’t been to kindergarten – with no one else in the room.
“It was wonderful,” Andrews said. “It was the hardest job I’ve ever had, still to this day.”
After two years of teaching, she said she had fallen in love with Colorado so she applied to law school in Boulder.
With the exception of a few months spent at a Denver law firm, Andrews has worked as a public defender — she handled the felony criminal docket in Pitkin County District Court — for her entire legal career, which she said prepared her well for being a judge.
“(In both jobs) I’m trying to help people,” Andrews said. “It’s part of the transition to wanting to be a judge. I see myself as a public servant and I want to help others and help the community. I’m not going to be a public defender on the bench, but a lot of ideals as a public defender translate well to the bench.”
Over the years, Fernandez-Ely pioneered a style that emphasized helping the people that came before her. She established programs to try and get people help for the underlying causes that landed them in her court, including access to substance abuse and mental health treatment, monitored sobriety, counselors and other pretrial services in an effort to reduce recidivism.
“She really treated the county courtroom as treatment court,” Andrews said. “(She said) ‘What’s the root of the behavior,’ rather than just punishing the symptom. You see someone as more than the worst thing they’ve done. It’s how she approached things and how I want to approach things.”
Deputy District Attorney Don Nottingham, who appears frequently in Pitkin County District Court opposite Andrews, said her demeanor will suit Andrews well on the bench.
“She’s always fair and always civil,” he said. “She and I have disagreed, but it was always done civilly, which is promising for someone making decisions and being a judge.”
Scott Troxell, deputy state public defender and Andrews’ supervisor in Glenwood Springs, said he thinks she’ll make an excellent replacement for Fernandez-Ely.
“It’s a great fit for Pitkin County,” he said. “She’s been very involved in treatment courts, she’s compassionate to clients, she’s a young mother. I think she’ll be a real asset to the Aspen community and Pitkin County.”
And while Andrews hasn’t lived in Pitkin County long, she’s committed to the area, Troxell said.
“She has really tried to make her and her family a part of the community,” he said. “She’s committed, not just to justice generally, but to how it impacts Pitkin County, which is a small community.”
Andrews said that while she’s the first lawyer in her family, she feels like the job of being Pitkin County judge also ties her closer to her grandmother, who worked as a law librarian but never had the chance to go to law school.
“My grandma has been the most proud of me for doing this,” she said. “It’s fulfilling what she would have done if she’d had the opportunity.”
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A more than $2 million expansion of the Pitkin County Landfill slated to add between six and eight years of life to the facility, which is rapidly running out of room, is nearly complete.