January 11, 2002
By Steven K. Paulson, Associated Press
State Supreme Court Chief Justice Mary Mullarkey confirmed Friday she has multiple sclerosis, but said it has not affected her work and she has no plans to retire.
Mullarkey, appointed to the court in 1987 by Democratic Gov. Roy Romer, told The Associated Press she was diagnosed with the disease in 1994, and informed fellow members of the court.
She said there were fears the disease would affect memory and similar functions, but she hasn't experienced that. "It certainly affects my walking ability," she said.
Mullarkey, 58, said doctors have told her she has a mild case and may have to use a cane for walking. "I thought, 'Gosh, I'm going to end up in a wheelchair.' He doesn't think it I will end up that way," Mullarkey said.
Mullarkey commented after learning of rumors that she may retire because of the disease and speculation about what that would have meant for redistricting legal battles.
The court is facing its most partisan decision in a decade, approving 100 legislative districts that are being redrawn because of the 2000 Census.
The state Reapportionment Commission has the responsibility for setting the new district boundaries. Its final plan must be approved by the high court.
By law, Mullarkey was allowed to appoint four members to the commission. She named all Democrats, tipping the balance in favor of Democrats, 6-5.
Gov. Bill Owens asked Mullarkey to recuse herself from the legislative redistricting case because of her appointments, but she refused.
The supreme court also may end up with an appeal of a Denver District Court lawsuit over new boundaries over new boundaries lawmakers are trying to set for seven congressional districts.
About 350,000 Americans have MS, a nerve disease that causes varying degrees of symptoms including numbness, muscle weakness and sometimes paralysis.
Democratic governors have appointed all but one of the seven members of the state's high court. Under state law, a bipartisan nominating committee picks three candidates, and the governor makes the final choice for a two-year term. After that, justices run for retention to 10-year terms.
Mullarkey served as legal adviser to Gov. Dick Lamm from 1982-1985, and was the state's solicitor general from 1979-1982. Before that, Mullarkey was an attorney-adviser to the Civil Rights Branch in the Interior Department.
Mullarkey became chief justice on Aug. 3, 1998. She was re-elected to a 10-year term in 2000 and she plans to stay.
Colorado Democratic Party secretary Denis Berckefeldt said the current makeup of the court includes five Democrats, including Mullarkey, and two Republicans, although no records are kept by the court on party affiliation because judges are expected to be non-partisan.
Berckefeldt said party officials were not even aware Mullarkey had been diagnosed with MS.
"There has been no pressure from the party and there would be no pressure when there is a health issue. That decision is hers to make," Berckefeldt said.
Chuck Turner, executive director of the Colorado Bar Association, which has 14,000 members statewide, said many attorneys were aware of the diagnosis.
"I don't think it has affected her performance at all. I can't see that it will have any effect on her performance," he said.
On the Net:
State Supreme Court: http://www.courts.state.co.us/
2001 © The E.W. Scripps Co