Former Eagle County Court Judge Katharine Sullivan loves life in the Beltway | VailDaily.com

Former Eagle County Court Judge Katharine Sullivan loves life in the Beltway

Editor's note: Former Eagle County Court Judge Katharine Sullivan is acting director of the Justice Department's Office on Violence Against Women. We caught up with her during her quick stop in Denver.

DENVER — Katharine Sullivan was on the third day of a three-day swing through Denver, touring programs and facilities that serve victims of domestic violence, recalling and reciting details and data, remembering names.

Sullivan, a former Eagle County court judge, heard more than 45,000 cases during 11 years on the bench. She launched two alternative sentencing courts for people with alcohol and drug problems.

She's now director of the Justice Department's Office on Violence Against Women, and says she is a proud member of the Trump administration.

"I love to learn, which is why it was so important as a judge for me to innovate. This job has been one of the greatest adventures of my life," she said.

'Build it yourself'

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She was on the third day of her three-day stint in Denver, touring Denver's Rose Andom Center, one of the nation's most innovative and comprehensive facilities and programs for victims of domestic violence.

The center grew out of Denver's long history of collaboration around domestic violence. The roots of that approach run back to the early 1980s, when Denver was about to be sued for allegedly failing to act in domestic violence cases.

The center's founders looked for federal money to build it, but were not awarded a grant in that first round of applications, although they were told their grant application was one of the top scorers.

"We were a little cocky about it. We said, 'That's your problem,'" said Steve Siegel, one of the Rose Andom Center's most ardent supporters. "We were told 'build it yourself,' and that got us thinking in ways we had not before," Siegel said.

Michael Hancock, Bill Ritter, Mitch Morrissey and others were beginning their quest to leave a legacy, and the center was destined to be part of it, Siegel said.

The Rose Andom Center is home to legal assistance, counseling services, a Denver Police Department domestic violence unit, a district attorney's office and other services, including referrals to emergency shelters, that women and their families need at times like that.

"This is the sort of thing that gave me the courage to take this step at this time in my life," Sullivan told Siegel and Margaret Abrams, Rose Andom Center executive director.

Sullivan was 11 years from retirement and walked away from her state pension to take her position with the Trump administration.

"After what I saw during and after 2008, I wondered how many people passed up the opportunity to do the right thing because of retirement planning. But then their retirement was gone," she said. "For me, that was a life-changing moment."

Perspectives change

Living in Eagle County, out here in Flyover Land, the view of the current state of the federal government was one thing. Her perspective has shifted since she landed inside the Beltway.

"There are a lot of places for reorganization and efficiency, which are directives the president issued. It's seeing what people are working on. It's making sure through the attorney general that the money that is appropriated gets into the hands of the people who need it. You sometimes have to cut down through the top layers of government to make sure that happens."

She knows that in her office, "the people are determined to serve victims and hold perpetrators accountable."

Her staff are experts in this field, she said. She meets constantly with other agencies that have dovetailing interests.

"One of my priorities is to look at the intersection of substance abuse and victimization, and find ways to help people who are suffering domestic abuse and are also substance dependent. Substance abuse can be the point of control for things like sex trafficking. I'm trying to bridge that gap. That's really important to me," Sullivan said.

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