An appealing retirement

Claus Hume, former prosecutor and district court judge in Craig, hangs up his robes for the state Court of Appeals


From Craig attorney to Colorado Court of Appeals chief judge, a three-decade legal career was nearly full circle for Claus Hume late February in Hot Sulphur Springs.

At the same bench he ruled years ago, Hume read an oath of office to Paul McLimans, former district attorney for Moffat, Grand and Routt counties.

"It was a fun time," Hume said of his 13 years on the 14th Judicial District Court bench.

"I enjoyed traveling that circuit, I continue to enjoy it and will after I retire," he said.

Hume's last day presiding over the Colorado Court of Appeals is May 30 -- the end of a 29-year run on district and appeals court benches.

Hume, 67, whose son, K.C. Hume, is the chief investigator for the Moffat County Sheriff's Office, Wednesday pondered a future which in the short term still includes law.

"It's time to kick back for awhile," Hume said. "I've been here long enough and I think it's better for me and the system if I move on. I want to stay active, travel a bit and get better acquainted with my grandkids."

Hume, however, will still hear cases when called as part of the Colorado Judicial Branch's "senior judge" program, which sends retired judges on individual contacts with the state to preside over cases when needed.

A career ladder to the top post of Colorado's appeals court didn't start in law.

He earned an undergraduate degree in 1958 from the University of Colorado, with emphasis in English literature and philosophy.

"There wasn't a lot of demand at the time for that background," Hume laughed.

Photography caught his eye the next three years. Hume snapped pictures of the sun for researchers, working also in the darkroom at the Sacramento Peak Observatory in New Mexico.

Hume returned to CU for a law degree, graduating in 1965. With an eye toward a family shortly thereafter, he looked at Craig.

"We just wanted a small-town atmosphere -- a good place to raise kids," said Hume, whose initial private law practice began in a two-story office at the northwest corner of Yampa Avenue and Victory Way, before moving in 1967 to today's Craig Professional Building on Pershing Street.

"Pughe & Hume" then "Shrimpton & Hume" worked "soup to nuts" back when business wasn't always booming.

"We took whoever walked into the door," Hume said. "There's more litigation now, and maybe there were about five lawyers in Craig."

Former partner and District Attorney Worth Shrimpton brought Hume into the prosecutor's

office in 1966 as a deputy, before being named assistant district attorney in 1968.

Hume was elected district attorney for the 14th Judicial District in 1972 and served two years.

At the time, Colorado law allowed elected district attorneys and staff to simultaneously keep private practices.

Conflict potential had him and others picking and choosing cases. Some people just kept away altogether, he said.

"You just had to stay away from anything that would get you involved in anything criminal," Hume said. "I think everyone in a small community was use to that and understood it."

A tight-knit, small group of Craig attorneys then rarely brought cases to trial, Hume said.

"We're more litigious now," he said. "All the attorneys in Craig got along with each other, and you can say that might not always be good. But if you can find a way not to spend people's money, that's the best way to serve a client."

Hume was appointed district court judge in 1974, serving through 1987 while also serving as the judge for the state's District 6 Water Court.

Appointed to the Colorado Court of Appeals in 1988, Hume said he took on his most difficult transition.

Questions affecting the lives of clients, defendants and plaintiffs were replaced by review of thick attorney briefs.

"I enjoyed being an attorney and judge and I missed that to a certain extent when I came up here," he said.

"Here, we're involved in more interpretation of the law for posterity than the individual stakes, but at the same time, I think we're aware of those stakes."

"Some people feel we're a little too removed, but there are pros and cons to that," he added. "It's partially a benefit because of an impartiality with the law I think is healthy."

Hume will keep his Westminster home after leaving the appeals court bench.

"For me, it has been satisfying to help people understand the law and work within the system."

Time spent around dad at the Moffat County Courthouse didn't inspire any lawyer ambitions, K.C. Hume laughed.

"Subconsciously, I'm sure it all had an impact on where I am today," he said.

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