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Vail’s court: Shots of vodka, scales of justice

Kristin Anderson/Vail DailyVail Municipal Court judge Buck Allen listens to a defendant's case Thursday in Vail. Allen handles cases ranging from parking tickets to disorderly conduct.
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VAIL, Colorado ” Vail, like any good ski town, is fun. You ski, you snowboard, you party, you hot-tub, you eat, you drink.

You might drink a lot. And sometimes the alcohol-fueled fun goes too far.

If that happens, you might, in the sober light of day, end up facing Judge Buck Allen, with his fingers splayed against his forehead, deciding your fate.

Take, for instance, the case of a 20-year-old man with long, blonde hair who appeared before Allen in Vail Municipal Court on Thursday.

Police said they found the man visibly drunk wandering the village on a snowy night in January. When they asked him for his ID, he repeatedly gave them gift cards, police said. His blood-alcohol content was later measured at 0.359 percent, police said, some five times the legal limit for driving.

“At 0.359, you can die,” Allen told the Timber Ridge resident after he pleaded guilty to possession of liquor by an underaged person.

“I know, that’s a lot of alcohol,” the man said, adding that he’d been drinking vodka that night.

This is when Allen consults his alcohol chart, which he does often. He determines that the man needed 30 drinks to get that blood-alcohol content.

“You trying to kill yourself?” Allen asks.

“Umm, no,” the man said.

“No, I’m serious,” Allen said. “I’m not being facetious.”

The judge sat for a moment in silent deliberation. Spectators ” most waiting for their own cases to come up ” sat around the courtroom, which also serves as the Vail Town Council chambers.

The busyness of Allen’s court ebbs and flows with the busyness of Vail. April is one of the court’s busiest times, with people trying to get their court dates in before they leave for the season. Allen can see dozens of cases in a day.

Allen then sentenced the man to a $500 fine and 20 days in jail. Half of the man’s fine and all of the jail time were suspended on terms that included attending alcohol counseling.

Then there was the case of a University of Colorado fraternity brother who was at the Cascade hotel last October for his fall formal. A witness told police they saw him wandering the fourth floor of the hotel with his genitals hanging out of his boxer shorts. He was charged with indecent exposure.

The man told the judge that he didn’t know how many drinks he’d had that night.

“Why don’t you count your drinks?” Allen asked the senior math major.

The man pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and was sentenced to a $750 fine and 60 days in jail. The jail time was suspended on terms including attending Alcoholic Anonymous meetings for a year.

“You’re a smart guy and you’ve got a lot ahead of you that’s good,” Allen said. “You can’t afford to drink it down the tubes.”

Earlier, in his chambers, Allen had said he’s seeing people drink more and more, with blood-alcohol contents regularly climbing up to 0.25 and higher in the cases he sees. It seems that downing lots of shots is becoming more commonplace in Vail, he said.

“Drinking habits have changed,” said Allen, who has been Vail’s municipal judge since 1979 and has been coming to Vail since 1964.

Allen is affectionately known as “Judge Buck” around town, a moniker that Allen sees as a balance between respect and a “he’s one of us” acceptance.

A couple patrons of White Trash Wednesday, the popular weekly event at the Sandbar in West Vail, appeared before the judge Thursday.

A man who described himself as a professional athletic trainer from Tempe, Ariz., had run out of the Sandbar with one of the bar’s chair at 1:37 a.m., police said. He said he wanted the chair to help furnish his condo, police said.

“It’s true,” the man, who is spending the winter in Vail, said in court after the police report had been read. “It’s completely out of character. … Vail has certainly increased my drinking.”

Allen told the man he needs to count how many drinks he consumes.

“How many drinks can you have in two hours to be under 0.05?” he said.

“Let me guess, two and a half?” the man said.

“Two and a half would be right,” Allen said.

The man was fined $100.

In the morning, Allen heard arraignments. People pleaded guilty or not guilty to charges ranging from speeding to disorderly conduct to failure to appear.

The only trial of the day was a man who defended himself on charges of failing to stop at a stop sign.

There were also parking tickets, for which the judge levied fines of $5, $3, $3 and $1.

“Parking is a hassle,” he sympathetically told one violator who had double-parked in the Lionshead garage while running errands.

Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 748-2929 or estoner@vaildaily.com.


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