Vail Municipal Court Judge Buck Allen entering his 40th year on the bench
Longtime judge hopes to spend another several years on the job
VAIL — The name Cyrus Allen may not ring many bells. Most people know him as Judge “Buck.”
If it seems like Allen’s been Vail’s municipal court judge roughly forever, that’s because he has been. Allen this year begins his 40th year running the town’s court. It’s a part-time job, so Allen is also the municipal court judge in Avon and Breckenridge. He’s also spent time in Eagle’s municipal court.
When Allen was first appointed to the Vail job, he was working as a deputy prosecutor in the Georgetown office of the Fifth Judicial District, which includes Eagle County. Once he cleared taking the job with his boss, Jack Healy, he was able to handle both positions, at least for a while.
While Allen was working in Georgetown when appointed to the Vail job, he was no stranger to the resort and community. His parents had built a cabin on Buffehr Creek in about 1964, and one of Allen’s first summer jobs included time with a construction company that put the roof on Vail’s covered bridge. Spending time in Vail, Allen also landed a lifetime ski pass through family connections.
After spending some time on the municipal court bench, Allen made a self-discovery:
“I’m a better listener than a talker,” he said.
Lots of listening
Allen’s done a lot of listening over the years, in all kinds of cases including shoplifting, assault and, as you’d expect in a resort area, lots of cases stemming from intoxication of one kind or another.
Allen said these days he’s seeing quite a few cases of minors in possession of marijuana. That’s particularly true in Breckenridge, which has recreational marijuana stores. Those stores are prohibited in Vail and Avon.
In Breckenridge, a number of people younger than 21 are trying to use fake IDs. Technology today makes it easy to create a convincing-looking fake ID. But, Allen said, technology also makes it easier to find out those who are using fake IDs.
Allen said someone at a liquor or marijuana store will take a suspected ID and hand it over to authorities, who then go straight to Facebook and other social media sites.
Recent high school prom photos are often a dead giveaway that a suspect isn’t yet 21.
While technology has changed, much of human behavior hasn’t. A lot of people facing a judge for intoxicated hijinks are often pretty apologetic.
“I’d say probably 95 percent of people are self-correcting,” he said.
So Allen listens, and levies fines accordingly.
Allen used to require people to pay their fines in canned food that was then donated to local food banks. These days, a fine is likely to be a donation into a fund that buys winter coats for local kids in need.
Both those ideas have been borrowed from other jurisdictions but put to good use locally.
Like many municipal judges, Allen’s also been known to impose some not-strictly-enforceable penalties on juveniles. He sometimes sentences juveniles to eat dinner with their parents at least three times a week, and put down their phone during those meals.
“I had a father thank me for that,” Allen said.
Helping part of the job
It’s the chance to help people that most draws Allen to the job.
“I listen, and try to treat people respectfully,” he said. “If you listen, you hear some amazing stores.”
And, although he turns 70 this year, Allen recently told the Vail Town Council he’d like to put another six to 10 years into the job — with the council’s permission, of course.
While Allen still enjoys the work, he’s also in the past few years looked to take a bit more time to himself.
Allen used to perform scores of weddings a year, a way to supplement his income from multiple municipal-court postings. In recent years, he’ll marry a few folks a year, mostly friends or people in friends’ families.
“I’ve gotten to the point where the time is more valuable to me than the money,” he said.
Allen is using his time in the ways you’d expect from a full-time Vail resident. He’s a frequent skier — although not as frequent as he once was.
Visitors are often surprised when they find themselves riding a lift or sharing a gondola car with the resort town’s municipal judge. And Allen thinks residents he meets on the mountains see the town judge is “one of us.”
That connection with the community is one of the things Allen likes best about his jobs.
A friend who’s a judge in the state’s district courts once told Allen that the farther up the judicial ladder one climbs, the more contact is lost with people.
In fact, Allen said, judges who retire from state or county courts will sometimes pick up municipal court positions as a form of semi-retirement.
Now in his job for 40 years, Allen from time to time thinks about his legacy. He believes he’s one of the longest-serving judges in state history.
More important, though, is the work itself.
“I think I’ve had a positive impact on the communities I’ve served,” he said.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at email@example.com or 970-748-2930.
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