The changing of the guard

Richard Doucette leaving the bench after 22 years as chief district judge

— He came to Colorado with an eye for the natural environment. What he found was a calling that led him in a different direction, but never far from the mountains that first brought him to the state.

Retired 14th Judicial District Judge Richard Doucette moved to Colorado about 40 years ago to pursue a career in forestry.

He had recently graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in forest management and Colorado promised a better job market.

But career plans changed quickly, and Doucette entered law school at the University of Colorado.

He graduated in 1966 and moved to Hot Sulphur Springs in 1971, where he practiced law privately until Gov. Richard Lamm appointed him to the bench in 1980.

Twenty-two years of presiding over cases in the 14th Judicial District came to an end Dec. 30 when Doucette turned over his post to newly appointed Chief District Judge Michael O'Hara.

"It has been an enjoyable experience," he said. "It has been very demanding."

Doucette, 61, indicated last spring he would not seek another six-year term on the bench.

He intends to spend more time with his family. Doucette and wife Christine have two children and five granddaughters.

Doucette has been chief judge in the district since 1994 and served as chief judge between 1980 and 1990.

He shared the caseload for the district with District Judge Joel Thompson, who is also leaving the bench.

Doucette heard the majority of Grand County cases and about a half of Routt County cases.

Although Dec. 30 marked his last day as judge, he will continue to preside over cases in the district through January.

Doucette participates in the Colorado Senior Judge Program, which places retired judges who meet certain requirements in judicial districts where they are needed. Judges in the program might fill in where busy court dockets demand another judge or where judges have recused themselves because of conflicts of interest.

Routt County Administrator Evan Herman said Doucette would fill in as a senior judge in the 14th Judicial District until Thompson's replacement, District Attorney Paul McLimans, makes the transition to the bench.

"Judge Doucette has certainly had a long tenure here in the district and has served the citizens of this district very well and will leave big shoes to be filled," McLimans said.

Doucette laughs about his semi-retirement.

"I'm not going anywhere," he said of continuing to work on several of his cases for a few more weeks.

The newly retired judge is in no hurry for absolute retirement. He still enjoys his work and his new role as a senior judge affords him some flexibility in deciding when he serves on the bench.

But as much as Doucette enjoys his work, he values his time spent beyond the courtroom.

"I have a million hobbies on the weekends," he said. "My life is not my work."

The 14th Judicial District encompasses a large geographic area. About 70 miles separate the Routt and Grand County Combined Courts, so Doucette has logged many miles en route to Steamboat Springs.

The long commute has demanded that he stay in Steamboat a few nights a week.

"It has made the week go by really fast," Doucette said. "As you get older the time goes by faster."

It was a tremendous sacrifice to spend so much time away from his family for 22 years, Routt County Judge James Garrecht said.

"We all kind of took that for granted," Garrecht said.

Doucette handed down two major decisions before he left the bench. In his final week in office, he ordered Routt County to find a way to finance and complete a new court facility by mid-2006 and dismissed a summary judgment in favor of American Skiing Co. in a dispute over ASC's decision to abandon the sale of the ski area to Triple Peaks LLC.

His ruling on the need for safe and adequate court space in the county demonstrates his dedication and respect for the judicial system, County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said.

"That weighed heavily on his mind," she said. "He feels very strongly that the judicial system is part of our governmental structure. Only he could say the things he said in the way he said them."

Doucette has consistently looked out for the best interests of others, said Garrecht, who appeared before Doucette as a district attorney before he became a colleague on the bench.

"He always took his job seriously," Garrecht said. "He's always tried to do the best job."

And Doucette approached his position with a great deal of humility, he said.

Doucette believes the position of judge is a full-time position on and off the bench.

"A lot of good people filled this position before me," he said. "It's still a position of respect in the community."

Twenty-two years on the bench has exposed Doucette to countless faces and personalities. But Doucette has forgotten many of them.

"I have the clean bathtub memory," he said. "You fill it up with information and then it's gone."

He said he prefers to not remember.

But one thing he cannot forget. When he first arrived in Colorado so many years ago, he was waiting in Denver for a train to his new home in Cañon City. But Doucette was listening for a call to "Canyon City."

"I almost missed the train," he said with a chuckle. "I'll remember that."

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