RIO GRANDE COUNTY — Chief Judge Michael Gonzales swore in newly appointed Rio Grande County Judge John W. Stenger on June 1. Stenger is the 21st judge to serve in Rio Grande County Since the county was formed in 1874.
Stenger was born and raised in Louisville, Ky., the youngest of the family. His father taught law school courses at the University of Kentucky Law School in Louisville and his mother was a professor of religion at the same University. Stenger certainly has the law in his blood, his paternal grandfather was a lawyer in Minnesota where his father grew up.
Stenger grew up in Louisville and attended school there, in middle school he realized his love for music and began playing the guitar. As time passed and through high school, he found an affinity for jazz and the piano became his focus. Stenger was all about music. He took college classes in Louisville, The New School in New York; ultimately graduating in 2001 with a bachelor’s in Music from Queens College, City University of New York in 2001. But questionably during this time it was all about the music.
In 2014 he met his wife, Amy Dewitt, and they officially became a couple in 2015. In 2016, John decided on a whim to go back to school and pursue his legal roots.
In August of 2016, he started law school at the University of Colorado in Boulder. He was an older non-traditional law student, 38 at the time. He actually described it as awful. He went from being an outgoing, fun-loving musician to a First Year Law student, much older and more mature than the other students.
Judge Stenger married Dewitt in November of 2017. The family welcomed Rye in April of 2019 and Nola joined the family in July 2021.
Recognizing that he wanted to help people and become a part of a community, he started talking to the state Office of Child Representative and the Office of Respondent Parent Counsel. He was hopeful that he could continue the GAL/RPC work that he started in law school. He learned that in the metro area there weren’t many opportunities for recent law school graduates, but if he was willing to consider a rural area, he was told that he might have an opportunity at a contract with one or both of those agencies. He and Amy began to tour rural Colorado.
He graduated in 2019 from the University of Colorado School of Law and found his best option was the San Luis Valley. In 2019, the family moved to Del Norte, and he opened his solo practice, Stenger, L.L.C. and started fresh out of law school with a full caseload as GAL and RPC. The family fell in love with the Del Norte area and the people of the San Luis Valley. In August of 2020, he began as Family Court Facilitator for the 12th Judicial District and remained in that position into 2021.
As Rio Grande County Judge, Judge Stenger will preside over misdemeanors, traffic cases, preliminary proceedings in felonies, county court civil disputes and small claims cases.