Routt County Judge James Garrecht will retire in March |

Routt County Judge James Garrecht will retire in March

Judge James Garrecht will be leaving the bench after 34 years. His plan is to retire in March 2022.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

After 34 years on the bench, Routt County Judge James Garrecht is ready to hang up his robe and gavel for a more relaxed lifestyle in retirement, which he will officially begin in March.

“I just really like being a county court judge and staying with it for as long as I have,” Garrecht said.

Appointed by the late Gov. Richard Lamn in 1987, Garrecht said he had mixed feeling about his retirement, but Colorado law requires state judges to retire at age 72, which is why he chose to leave the bench at 71.

In small, rural counties, judges are expected to hear cases ranging from serious crimes to divorce and other civil issues, which Garrecht said has given him an opportunity to get to know much of the community.

“People don’t usually want to be here, so we try to make this a one-time experience,” Garrecht said. “We don’t want people coming back repeatedly.”

Throughout his 34 years as a judge, Garrecht said a large segment of those who appear in front of him are facing a drug or alcohol addiction, which he said he takes into consideration when sentencing someone for a crime.

“If you’re an addict, you become a different person — you’re not thinking logically,” Garrecht said. “I’m a pretty logical person, and I know that these people, because of their addiction, are having a hard time, because it’s a hard thing for people to overcome.”

While drugs and alcohol have always been prevalent in Routt County, Garrecht said he believes substance use has intensified over the years, and the drugs consumed have become more addictive and more deadly.

“When I came to town, it seemed like cocaine was the more popular drug, and now we’re running into methamphetimine and fentanyl sneaking into this stuff,” Garrecht said. “The drugs here are a lot more serious than they used to be, and the suicides and overdoses seem to be more common.”

Still, Garrecht said he has tried to create a legacy of being a patient, calm judge and giving defendants second chances. For him, that’s been rewarding as he looks back on his career.

“This is still a small town, I see people and I tend to have a pretty good memory of them,” Garrecht said. “I’ll see them in the grocery store and know they’ve stayed sober for years and things have gone well for them, and you like to see that.”

Steamboat-based criminal defense attorney Doug Timmerman said Garrecht has become a community figure both in and out of the court room, and his replacement will have large shoes to fill.

“He’s a very friendly, happy guy,” Timmerman said. “He is kind, and he has a sense of kindness that is missing not just from he legal system, but from our culture.”

Fourteenth District Attorney Matt Karzen said Garrecht was the first judge he ever appeared in front of as a new attorney. Years later, Karzen still remembers Garrecht’s politeness and decency.

“I’ve known a lot of judges that are good with people and they’re respectul and courteous in the way they do their jobs, but Judge Garrecht fits that description as much or more than anyone I’ve ever known,” Karzen said. “This is a small county, and Judge Garrecht understood that.”

Karzen noted that Garrecht has taken a unique approach with defendants who appear in front of him, making an extra effort to learn their story and their struggles before making a decision.

“Being a local county court judge in a small county like this is a unique opportunity to customize the justice that you dispense,” Karzen said. “Even if they didn’t like his ruling, I don’t think anybody ever leaves his courtroom feeling like they weren’t treated fairly.”

Sharon Timmerman, a former member of the Colorado Commissions on Judicial Performance, the state body tasked with reviewing judges and recommending a decision to voters ahead of a judge’s reelection process, said the committee chose to recommend Garrecht over and over because of his unique understanding of Routt County.

“Our community has been blessed to have a judge of his caliber in such a remote, small rural area, to have his knowledge and expertise,” Garrecht said. “I hope that this valley can produce another one like him.”

The 14th Judicial Nomination Commission — which includes participants from Routt, Moffat and Grand counties — will begin accepting applications from potential judges in the coming months. The committee will then conduct interviews and make a recommendation to Gov. Jared Polis, who has the ultimate say.

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