Denver Bar Association
March 2004
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Cathy Lemon Now a Baby Judge: She's Denver's Newest District Judge

by Alicia McCommons

Editor’s note: We will be featuring new judges in the months ahead.

Gov. Owens appointed Catherine Lemon to the Denver District Court in January. Judge Lemon said the district judges fondly refer to new appointees as "baby judges." The baby judges attend training, shadow a more experienced judge for a short period of time, attend a new judges’ school provided by the state judiciary and "study like crazy," said Judge Lemon.

However, she is no baby when it comes to experience. She has been in private practice for more than 20 years. Her most factually bizarre case: plastic surgery on show horses.

Her term begins in the Domestic Division (later she will rotate through the civil and criminal divisions); this is the perfect place for Lemon to start, as her pro bono and volunteer work have often included children. "Kid things always get to me," she said.

When considering the emotional difficulties certain cases may pose, Judge Lemon said, "You have to focus on your job. I liken it in my mind to emergency workers; they don’t have the luxury of being self-indulgent with their emotions." She recognizes the need to distance herself and to move the case forward. "I want to keep in mind that I’m their judge and not their social worker," she added.

More important even than the lack of timesheets and her very own parking place is the fact that she can "be helpful to people in times of crisis," she said. "Whenever you are in a position to help people deal with their most difficult things, you have satisfaction."

For the Lawyers

Judge Lemon expects lawyers in her courtroom to behave professionally and civilly toward each other. She suggests, "Proofread everything that you will file,
and then, proofread
again. . . ." "It is also important to be prepared and candid. For instance, do not leave out the primary authority in your jurisdiction just because it goes the wrong way."

"People will need to be well-prepared and practical," said Natalie Hanlon-Leh, a former partner of Judge Lemon’s at Faegre & Benson. "Cathy will cut through an argument to get to the problem that is there. She will have read things, thought about them and have questions. People shouldn’t underestimate her."

From the Bench

The best judges that Lemon experienced as a litigator were the ones who knew that they were serving the public. "It was not about them," she said. "A good judge can help a litigant get through a case. It is important to be respectful of scheduling and to be timely in deciding motions."

Although Judge Lemon might miss being the "active" one in the courtroom, she realizes that it is necessary to keep her job clear. "I think it’s important to respect the position of the people who come before you and to move things as rapidly as possible," she said. "I need to be timely in order not to cause them to lose money, and in domestic cases, poor timing causes the people agony," said Judge Lemon.

"Cathy really understands the importance of lawyers and judges in the legal system," said Hanlon-Leh. One challenge with the bench is the different types of people you encounter. "Cathy has the personal skills to treat them well so that they have confidence in the system."

"I think she’s fair, thoughtful and even-tempered; she’s got the whole package," she added.

Judge Lemon hopes to use that "whole package."

"I was a psych major, and I care about people a lot. I’m hoping that this job will use all of me, not just my mind, but my compassion, sense of humor and whole personality."

She likes to travel and spend time with her two boys who are now in college, but has no immediate travel plans, as she expects an engrossing first year on the bench. She is looking forward to the full-time public service.

"This is the right fit for her," said Hanlon-Leh. "Her people skills, intelligence, enthusiasm and sense of humor will be what will make her a better judge."

The initial term of office for a district court judge is a provisional term of two years, after which the incumbent must stand for retention to serve an additional six years.

Judge Lemon has served on the faculty of the National Institute of Trial Advocacy, is president-elect of the Colorado Women’s Bar Association and has received local, state and national recognition for her pro bono work over the past 10 years.

She graduated from the University of Colorado School of Law in 1982 and holds a B.A. degree in psychology from Vassar College.

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