Eagle County Judge Katharine Sullivan resigns after a decade of innovation | VailDaily.com

Eagle County Judge Katharine Sullivan resigns after a decade of innovation

Judge Katharine Sullivan listens to a client talk about being sober for the last nine months during drug and alcohol court at the Eagle County Justice Center. Sullivan is resigning as Eagle County Court Judge at the end of the year. She's hosting a party Dec. 20, 2:30 p.m., in her Courtoom 2 for all the AISP participants.

EAGLE — Katharine Sullivan may be one of the only judges to receive a standing ovation in her courtroom.

Sullivan, one of the state's most innovative judges, was walking into a courtroom packed with people in her drug and alcohol alternative sentencing court, people she had pushed, pulled and mothered into a life of sobriety. They did not have to be told to rise when the judge entered the room. They were already on their feet, applauding and cheering.

Sullivan has resigned as Eagle County Court judge, effective at the conclusion of 2017. She cannot yet say where she's headed, but it'll be pretty awesome.

Sullivan is the 5th Judicial District's Judge of the Year: Eagle, Summit, Lake and Clear Creek counties.

"This decision was a real struggle. I love this job, I love the community and I love what I've gained from this community," Sullivan said. "I hope that in some small way I have helped some people."

Alternative to incarceration

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Besides the mountain of criminal cases she handles, Sullivan launched Eagle County's problem solving court in October 2009, after serving as a judge for more than a decade.

Problem solving court is officially called Adult Intensive Supervision Probation, and it's sort of the court of last resort for drug and alcohol offenders. Some resist joining the program because they want to keep their addiction a secret.

"If you're at the point of getting into my program, it's not a secret. You may think it's a secret, but it's not a secret," Sullivan said.

Hundreds have found their way through the program in the past decade. There are two doorways into Sullivan's courtroom: the big wooden doors to the Eagle County Justice Center hallway and freedom, and the small metal door that leads to the jail. Most people in her Adult Intensive Supervision Probation program have experienced both.

Of the dozens of people who have completed Eagle County's problem solving court, only 11 percent have landed back in jail. For those who don't, more than 50 percent walk back through those metal doors and back into jail.

"Incarceration does not benefit a community," Sullivan said. "People go into jail with issues and come out of jail with issues. Nothing changes."

It's not for everyone. Violent criminals need not apply, and it's not for first-time offenders.

Sullivan can be a force of nature, and like all such forces, you'd better be prepared to meet it. Each week, clients in problem solving courts get a few minutes with the judge, who will ask them to tell her something good that happened to them because they were sober.

You'd better be prepared with an answer.

They take a team approach. Sullivan is the team captain and is joined by jailers, prosecutors, defense attorneys, probation officers, counselors and several others — all of whom are volunteers.

Clients have lots of eyes on them as they learn life skills, how to write a resume and land a job. All of that creates stability, and stability tends to get people back on the right track, Sullivan said.

The right track runs like this:

• 365 consecutive days sober.

• Complete 12-step programs.

• Keep a job.

Some people can complete the program in a year, but you have up to two years.

So you want to be a judge?

The 5th Judicial District Nominating Commission will meet Friday, Dec. 29, at the Eagle County Justice Center to interview and select nominees for Sullivan's successor. Gov. John Hickenlooper makes the final decision.

To be eligible, you need a law degree, and you have to live in Eagle County. If you're selected by the committee and eventually appointed by the governor, then your first term will be two years. After that, if you're approved by Eagle County voters, then you'll serve four-year terms.

The county court judge will earn $156,288, according to the state's court administrators.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com.

To be a judge

Application forms are available from the office of the ex officio chair of the nominating commission, Justice William W. Hood III, 2 E. 14th Ave., Denver, CO 80203; and the office of the district administrator, Michael Pisciotta, 885 Chambers Ave., Eagle, CO 81631.

Applications also are available on the court’s home page at http://www.courts.state.co.us/careers/judge.cfm.

Applications must be filed with the ex officio chair no later than 4 p.m. Friday, Dec. 8. Late applications will not be considered.