Saturday, January 4, 2003
Steamboat Springs The 14th Judicial District's newest judge never gave much thought to the legal profession during his youth.
A trip to Washington, D.C., in college changed District Judge Michael "Mick" O'Hara's way of thinking and sparked some interest in pursuing a career in law.
"It was probably the first time that I really thought about it," he said.
O'Hara also attended seminary a few years and considered becoming a priest.
"I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what was right for me," he said.
He settled on law school. It's a decision he doesn't regret.
O'Hara was sworn in last week as chief district judge of the 14th Judicial District.
Gov. Bill Owens appointed O'Hara in August to replace retiring 14th Judicial District Judge Richard Doucette.
O'Hara has worked in the law office of Oliphant, Hammond, O'Hara & Atwell since moving to Steamboat Springs in 1991.
He practiced law for several years in San Diego after graduating from the University of San Diego Law School in 1985.
He and his wife, Julie, met in law school and moved to Steamboat because they thought it was an ideal place to raise their sons, Keegan, 18, and Mickey, 15.
He values the 17 years he spent in the courtroom and the challenges it afforded.
"I love the way the law is fluctuating and changing all the time," he said. "It's professionally challenging."
That won't change at all, O'Hara said, now that he sits on the bench.
What will change is his relationship with the many people he has worked with for so many years in Steamboat.
"I'll miss my partners," O'Hara said. "I'll miss my colleagues. I will miss my clients."
The feeling is mutual.
Attorney Kristopher Hammond has worked with O'Hara at the same law firm since O'Hara moved to Steamboat. The men were partners for seven years.
"He wants to be a judge for all the right reasons," Hammond said. "I'm sure he will be a highly respected judge not only in the judicial district but throughout the state."
O'Hara was encouraged by friends and colleagues to pursue a spot on the bench when Doucette announced his retirement.
Those around him note his integrity, calm demeanor and knowledge of the law.
"You can see that in the way he lives his life and the way he is with people," Hammond said.
O'Hara said he is grateful for the example of others in his profession.
"There have been times when there have been attorneys and judges whose paths I have been fortunate enough to cross," he said. "They impressed me greatly with the ability to do the work that needs to be done but to not make it personal. It is so important in my position to deal with everyone that way."
As he settles into his new role in the judicial system, O'Hara takes to heart little nuggets of wisdom offered by colleagues and family.
He remembers the words of a judge who once told him to "respect everyone and do the right thing."
O'Hara, the oldest of eight children, recently received a present from his younger siblings. They gave him a gavel that reads "Justice with mercy."
"I hope I'll be able to remember that," he said.