Peter Craven dies during bicycle ride | PostIndependent.com
Bobby MagillPost Independent Staff

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Peter Craven dies during bicycle ride

They called him Pete outside the courtroom.”He could have been a Supreme Court judge in Colorado – he would have had that opportunity, but he loved Carbondale and the Roaring Fork Valley and he loved working as a judge here, and he felt he could make more of an impact in his home community.”That’s how Deputy Public Defender Jim Conway remembered Chief 9th Judicial District Judge Thomas Peter Craven, who died Tuesday evening in Aspen. He was 65. After hearing opening arguments in a Pitkin County civil trial on Tuesday, Craven rode his bicycle along an Aspen bike trail at about 5:45 p.m., when he reportedly suffered a heart attack. Aspen Police investigator Chris Womack said Craven was being transported to Aspen Valley Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Inside the courtroom, Craven was addressed as “your honor.” He was a well-respected litigator, the founder of the Garfield County drug court, the first public defender in the 9th Judicial District and a man whose friends and colleagues say had a keen intellect and an unassailable reputation as one of the best judges in Colorado. After serving as the municipal attorney for Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt, Craven practiced law in the Roaring Fork Valley for years before being appointed to the district court bench in 1991. He ascended to the chief judge’s chair in 2004 and also served as water judge for Water Division 5. Always learningCraven studied Spanish and traveled to Mexico to learn more about the legal system there to help make Garfield County’s courts more accessible to Spanish speakers. In 2002, he received the Colorado Judicial Institute’s Judicial Excellence Award. Driven by a fierce sense of creativity, Craven rode in several statewide bicycle tours and ran the Boston and New York marathons, said Glenwood attorney Walt Brown. Craven’s loss will be felt from Courtroom B in the Garfield County Courthouse to the halls of the Colorado Supreme Court and beyond. “I’ve known him for 36 years,” said Colorado Supreme Court Justice Mike Bender. “He was by far one of the most outstanding trial judges in the state.”Bender said Craven was a great role model for other judges statewide, calling him a “major player” in the state judiciary. “He was a very talented, bright, energetic, free-thinking attorney,” Bender said. “As a person, he was very interested in the outdoors, definitely dedicated to his family. (He) had a great eye for photography. … I just can’t think of someone I respected more.”Hearing that Craven had a heart attack on a bike, Bender said, “He was at least doing something that he loved.”‘Wonderful sense of humor’Former District Judge Tom Ossola said Craven was extraordinarily intelligent and possessed a “wonderful sense of humor.” “As a person, he was warm, funny, didn’t take himself too seriously and didn’t let his friends take themselves too seriously,” Ossola said. And they still called him Pete. Ossola, who long ago served as a deputy district attorney, argued a case against Craven who was representing a defendant in trial. “We had just completed the third day of a jury trial, and it was in the days when we all wore three-piece suits, and we had finished for the day and we walked out of the courtroom,” Ossola said. “He said, ‘Tom, we’ve got to finish this case tomorrow because I’ve only got one more three-piece suit.'”Craven’s humor and candor was echoed by Public Defender Greg Greer. “I’ve lost a friend and we’ve lost a great judge,” Greer said. “He always took the time, even in the busiest of days, to stop by, chat with you, see how you’re doing, talk about things just in a friendly manner. It was a nice contrast to the formality of the courtroom.”Craven’s death was a shock to everyone on Wednesday, especially those who work in the Garfield County Courthouse. Craven’s court clerk, Judy Newbould, said he was very supportive and his orders were “brilliant.””He’s going to be sadly missed in our district,” she said. A tough dayDistrict Attorney Martin Beeson said men and women throughout the courthouse shed their share of tears Wednesday. “I’ve been in this business for 24 years,” said Beeson, who served as a deputy DA in Craven’s court. “I can say this without hesitation, and that is he is one of the finest judges that I have ever had the privilege to appear before. He had a command of the law, a command of the facts.”Beeson said Craven practiced “tough love” with defendants, and showed that through his stern, business-like operation of the drug court. “He also had a large measure of compassion for people,” Beeson said. Ossola said Craven’s experience on the bench and on esoteric committees such as the Colorado Supreme Court Civil Rules Committee is something so special, “you just don’t replace experience like that over night.”Denver attorney Shelley Don not Don Shelley said he tried a case before Craven last year, and was tremendously impressed. “I thought he had a great grasp of the law,” Don said. “He infused it with a great humanity and understanding of human nature and common sense, and he was an extremely effective administrator.” Brown said Craven’s loss is equivalent to the loss of the planet Alderan in “Star Wars,” in that “there has been a great disturbance in the Force.””He was a ‘planet of justice,'” Brown said. “He gave a damn about everything he did.”Conway said he was glad to experience one final court hearing under Craven – his last appearance in a Garfield County courtroom – at last Friday’s hearing for alleged attempted murderers Samuel Lincoln and Lawrence Dale Doty. Very approachable, Craven was a lawyer’s judge, Conway said, one who, with his passing, leaves a gaping hole in the fabric of the local judiciary. Craven would often hang out with other lawyers and frequently join in their conversations,” Conway said. “He was very alive,” Conway said. “We always called him Pete.”Contact Bobby Magill: 945-8515, ext. 520bmagill@postindependent.com