Farewell to Judge "Andy’
“Andy” Gerard didn’t have a law degree when he was first appointed to the Eagle County Court Judge’s position. In fact, he didn’t even have a high school diploma.
What he did have was an abundance of common sense.
In the 23 years he sat on the Eagle County Court bench, Gerard, a casual, self-educated, chain-smoking man who pointedly avoided wearing judge’s robes, was known for his fairness. He had a talent for resolving cases outside of the courtroom. When opposing lawyers went into Gerard’s office for a discussion, they often came out with a settlement agreement, before the formal court proceedings began.
He earned the respect of both the lawyers and the citizens who came before his bench. One former defendant thought enough of the judge to send him an annual Christmas card for 20 years after being on trial in Gerard’s court.
Last lay judge
Roland “Andy” Gerard, 70, one of the last lay judges in the state, died earlier this month in the home in which he was born following a long illness. He will be missed by his family, friends, and the local legal community.
“He was always the voice of reason. Andy was absolutely easy to work with. He’d have two people diametrically opposed to one another, and he could make them walk out of the courtroom agreeing,” says attorney Jim Fahrenholtz, who practiced before Gerard both as a prosecutor and a defense attorney.
“He loved a plea bargain. He knew how to get them to agree,” adds Gerard’s son, George, also of Gypsum.
Andy Gerard came by the judgeship in an unusual way: he got talked into it. He had been working in the county assessor’s office when the judge’s position became vacant. Then-District Attorney Gene Lorig of Eagle and former State Legislator William F. Stevens of Sweetwater urged Gerard to seek the nomination, and followed up with some lobbying.
However, in order to qualify for the job, Gerard, who quit school after the eighth grade, had to take a test to obtain the equivalent of a high school diploma. Test administrators later said the judge-to-be posted one of the highest math scores they had ever seen.
Learning the law
Former Colorado Governor John Love appointed Gerard to the county judge position on a Friday. The following Monday morning, he presided over a jury trial.
The Gerard kids, George, and daughters Arlene Sandberg and Jackie Cooper, remember the days when their dad, always an avid reader, packed home stacks of law books every night so he could read up on the statutes. In those early days, there were only two or three lawyers in the county. Gerard always credited Lorig and defense attorney Stu Brown with helping him find his way as a judge.
“None of the local lawyers tried to snow him. We helped him,” says Lorig, who is now retired and living in Paonia.
“Andy didn’t pretend to know all the law, but he had good sense and was extremely fair. He could read the situation,” Lorig adds.
Lorig remembers one of the county’s first drug cases back in the late 1960s. A couple of Vail cops, riding a ski lift, caught the kids on the chair in front of them smoking marijuana. The cops hauled the kids down to the county seat to face Judge Gerard.
Lorig, a prosecutor at the time, says he and Andy discussed the situation in the judge’s chambers, decided the crime didn’t seem all that serious, and chose to avoid a full-out prosecution.
“We refused to get all upset about it,” Lorig says. “We read them out well, told them they were damn fools, and to go hence and never come back again.”
The Gerard kids say they remember an incident in which a Mexican immigrant poached a deer near Minturn in mid-winter. The game warden caught the man and wrote him a ticket. Gerard, upon learning the man had shot the deer in order to feed his family of 10, levied the most minimum penalty possible.
However, the following fall, when some out-of-state hunters killed a couple of trophy elk, removed the antlers, and let the meat waste, Gerard took a hard-line approach, levying fines in excess of $1,000 and confiscating the hunters’ rifles.
“Although he was a lay judge, he knew the law that he dealt with in county court very well,” says local defense attorney Bruce Carey.
Gerard purposely avoided wearing formal judge’s robes, explaining that the formal clothing tended to intimidate the people coming before the court. He favored blue jeans, a blazer and cowboy boots, a style Colorado Supreme Court officials weren’t happy with. Gerard ignored their dress-code edict.
Many court system workers remember Gerard’s open-door policy. During his years on the bench, the court was less hectic. Cops, attorneys, court clerks, and citizens would stop in and chat with the judge while he sipped coffee and smoked cigarettes. He missed that aspect of his work deeply upon retirement.
“I’d go into court to get something notarized; Andy would invite me into his office, and before I know it, we would have talked for a couple of hours,” says Cathy Keil, long-time legal secretary for local attorney Terry Quinn.
Gerard himself once estimated seven out of 10 cases could be resolved outside of the courtroom.
“We got a lot done back there,” says Fahrenholtz. “Andy would invite lawyers from both sides of a case back into his office, sit down to talk, and all of a sudden make sense out of everything.
“Too often in the justice system, attorneys can turn a molehill into a mountain. He just wouldn’t let lawyers do that,” says Fahrenholtz.
When an angry, drunken man, a frequent defendant, walked into county court one day in the early 1980s with a shotgun, it was Andy who talked him down and diffused the situation.
Gerard did keep a pistol behind the bench with him. In one court case, reacting to the unexpected click of a camera lens in the courtroom, Gerard pulled out the pistol, scattering lawyers, clerks, and citizens, says son-in-law Gerry Sandberg.
Outdoorsman with a bad back
Throughout his adult life, Gerard was plagued by health problems. At 18, he was injured when a horse and wagon overturned on the family ranch on Gypsum Creek. The back surgery performed at that time didn’t solve the problem. He re-injured his back while serving with the U.A. Army in Korea.
His children say he had another dozen or so surgeries over the years, but always suffered a back pain significant enough to give him a perpetually stooped posture.
Despite those physical challenges, Andy Gerard was an avid fisherman and big-game hunter. He loved hunting the Horse Park area on Hardscrabble, the mountain that loomed just across the valley from his back door.
“I could tell you a million stories about Andy,” says Ed Oyler, owner and operator of the Eagle Amoco Station.
Although more than a couple of decades younger than Gerard, Oyler frequently hunted with him. Despite his back pain, Gerard was always ready to go out in the hills.
“He’d take some pain pills, and we’d load him up and go,” says Oyler.
He remembers one particularly snowy day when Gerard insisted, despite the nasty weather, on hunting deer at Deer Park. In order to get his Jeep up the imposing road to the hunting grounds, Oyler had to chain up every wheel, then winch the vehicle nearly every inch of the way.
All the time, Gerard kept assuring Oyler that the hunting would be worth the effort. Sure enough, once they reached Horse Park, Gerard sat down and waited while Oyler worked the trees. Shortly, Oyler heard the boom of a gun, and returned to find the judge with one of the biggest bucks he had ever seen.
“Best shots I’ve seen’
The photo of the trophy buck was eventually printed in Remington magazine.
“He was one of the best shots I’ve seen. If he shot at it, he hit it,” says Oyler. “We spent a lot of time together. I hate to see him go.”
Gerard’s children remember him as the man who could read a grocery bag full of Louis L’Amour books in a week; and who could help with any sort of math homework without ever using a calculator. After church on summer Sundays, the family would pack a picnic and drive to Deep Lake, where Andy could do some serious fishing … often with more poles than were officially legal.
“He and his buddies always talked about hooking a big one … but they never could get it in,” says son George.
As a grandfather, Andy Gerard was a bit wary of tiny babies, but loved toddlers. He’d sometimes pick up granddaughter Chelsey Gerard from day-care and let her sit in a little chair in court with him; and he loved to take grandson Cody Gerard on a truck ride to look for elk.
Andy and his wife of 47 years, Liz, were big fans of their grandchildren’s sports activities. They avidly followed any high school sport the kids were involved in and drove hundreds of miles to watch the kids compete in rodeos.
Liz died of lung cancer in March, and Andy keenly felt the loss of his life’s companion.
June 5, Gerard died in his sleep.
The memorial service on June 10 at the Gypsum Methodist Church was a standing-room only crowd of relatives, friends, neighbors, law-enforcement officers, lawyers, judges and court employees.
“He was a good friend. I will miss him,” says Cary.
This story first appeared in the Eagle Valley Enterprise.