Award proof beyond doubt: Craven ‘a very special judge’
Although the Colorado Judicial Institute’s Judicial Excellence Award is bestowed on just one person, this year’s winner insists credit for the award should be shared among many.
Of the possible 300 judges and magistrates in Colorado eligible for the judicial excellence award, district judge and local resident District Judge T. Peter Craven was the judge the institute chose.
Craven, a Ninth Judicial District judge, presides over cases in Garfield, Pitkin and Rio Blanco counties.
“I think it’s an honor,” Craven said. “The award, although it’s given to an individual … is the result of the combined efforts of all the people.”
Those people include attorneys, clerks and everyone else who makes the system work, he said.
“It’s a tribute to that conglomerate of people,” Craven said.
Craven, 61, will receive the award from the Colorado Judicial Institute, a nonprofit citizens’ group committed to excellence in Colorado’s courts, at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, April 30, at the Hotel Colorado. Awards for pro bono attorney of the year and judicial professionalism will also be presented.
Each candidate for the judicial excellence award was assessed for docket management effectiveness, respect for litigants and attorneys, handling of difficult cases, commitment to community, creativity and excellence throughout his or her career.
“Every judge and magistrate is considered,” said Karen Salaz, of the Office of State Court Administrator.
“You have a very special judge up there,” she said of Craven.
“I think that the judge is – I guess something akin to a project director,” he said, explaining that he needs to listen to attorneys and litigants, then decide where each case goes from there.
“(A judge) gives them every opportunity to work out a resolution. If they can’t, I’ll provide a resolution,” he said.
Craven said it’s extremely important to get across to each party why he makes the decisions he makes, “so the party that prevails knows why they prevail, and so the party who does not knows why they did not.”
Craven first became a district judge in January 1991 after being appointed in December 1990 by then-Gov. Roy Romer. Along with being a district judge and dealing with a full spectrum of civil and criminal cases, he’s also an alternate water judge.
“Those cases are very complex,” he said of Colorado’s constantly evolving water law.
After receiving an undergraduate degree from Georgetown University in 1962 and earning a law degree from the University of Michigan in 1965, Craven began his career litigating corporate and commercial cases.
In 1970, he was appointed deputy state public defender for Eagle, Pitkin, Garfield and Rio Blanco counties.
“I did that until 1972, then I went into private practice and did trial law,” he said.
While in that position, he worked on personal injury, domestic relations, criminal, construction and general civil cases.
From 1973-1990, he also served as Carbondale’s town attorney; from 1976-1981, he was the Glenwood Springs city attorney; and from 1978-1981, he was the Basalt town attorney. So from 1978-81, he was the attorney for all three of these local municipalities at the same time.
“They were a lot smaller then and their interests were all a lot different,” he said.
His decision to become a judge wasn’t a lifelong dream, but rather something that evolved over time, he said.
“I think there’s a whole lot of things that have to come together to be chosen,” he said. “There are countless people out there who are just as qualified to do it.”
Craven could climb higher up the ladder in the Colorado court system. But if he were to become an appeals judge or a state supreme court judge, he’d have to live in Denver – an option that doesn’t thrill him.
At 61, Craven could stay on as a judge for 11 more years, when he would hit the mandatory retirement age of 72.
He is meticulous in presiding over each case.
“I keep notes on an Access database,” he said. “In addition to that, we get the files a day or two before and that gives us a chance to study it.”
The most complex cases, Craven feels, are child custody cases such as divorce or a neglect cases. The goal, he said, is “to create a treatment plan to modify the home to become a nurturing environment for a child.”
He also is involved in the recent development of a child advocate program. Advocates can give the judge an independent view of the child and describe how the child relates to the adults in his or her life.
“Sometimes I’ll interview the kids,” Craven said, pointing to a corner where he has crayons and games he uses to put children at ease.
“It’s me and the kids on the record. I find out how things are going for them in an effort to not let them feel disempowered,” he said.
The decisions he makes drastically affect children’s lives, so Craven works hard to be sure they are involved.
“Observation of them is part of the multi-faceted mosaic the judge has to look at to arrive at closure,” Craven said.
Craven, who is known by many for his deliberate, thoughtful manner in the courtroom, has helped to create programs and has sought insights that are above and beyond the call of duty.
In one instance, he went to Mexico to look for some perspective on the differences between Mexican and American courts.
“There’s a lot of differences. The function of a judge there is different and cases begin differently,” he said.
As in American states, the laws and procedures in each Mexican state are different.
“State litigation can be going while parts of a case are in federal court,” he said. In the United States, cases go before one court at a time.
Craven has been instrumental in the creation of drug court.
The court now splits criminal dockets to put drug and alcohol offenders on a different level of case management than those who don’t have drug- and alcohol-related offenses.
“We’ll put them on a differential case-management system,” he said. “After they plead guilty, they have to come to court every two weeks to talk with the judge until they get further along with the program … The goal is to reduce recidivism.”
The whole concept, Craven said, is new and innovative. It just started in the Ninth District during the second half of last year, so there is less than one year of statistics to check how it is working. But he said it seems to be working.
“I think we’re getting a good reaction,” he said. “One advantage is we have these periodic reviews, so we have prompt sanctions and also prompt encouragement for those who are doing well.”
Craven is also on the Colorado Supreme Court Civil Rules Committee. It’s a committee that meets periodically in Denver to oversee rules in Colorado civil litigation and decide if there is any need for either procedural or other types of changes.
“As demands change, procedure must change,” he said.
He is also active in the Bench-Bar Committee, a group of lawyers who meet with one or more judges to discuss an occurrence or development in the handling of court procedures.
“It’s to try to make the court more responsive,” he said.
Craven remains fascinated by the diversity of his work.
“The docket is made up of different components,” he said of his caseload. “The sum of those is the totality of human nature.”
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