Public defender Townsend bound for Fort Collins

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— Norm Townsend rarely steps inside the hockey rink. He can't skate well or check or sink a puck.

But he loves to watch the game.

Hockey moms and dads no doubt have seen Townsend camped out in front of youth hockey matches. Townsend's son, Charlie, picked up a hockey stick about 10 years ago and hasn't set it down since.

"It was the best thing that ever happened to me," Townsend said of his son's affection for hockey.

The game has forged a bond between father and son that holds true despite years -- and distance.

Townsend is leaving Steamboat Springs. The thing drawing him away from his home of 17 years is an equally ardent passion for something else.

The veteran hockey fan is a veteran attorney in Northwest Colorado. Townsend joined the Steamboat Springs regional office of the Colorado State Public Defender in 1986.

He accepted an offer to head up the regional office in Fort Collins in December. His son graduated from Steamboat Springs High School last spring, so there was nothing holding him back when the offer came along. His new job began in earnest Thursday, but he will return to Steamboat intermittently to tie up loose ends.

Sheryl Uhlmann, who replaced retired public defender Bill Schurman last November, will head the Steamboat office.

Townsend's responsibilities have grown with his recent move. He oversees seven attorneys and two investigators, in comparison to one attorney and one investigator in Steamboat. The majority of those under his watch are younger than 35.

The seasoned defense lawyer embraced the opportunity to share his legal know-how with fresher faces. He smiles when he thinks of mentoring a group of 20- and 30-somethings. It wasn't that long ago when he stood in front of a classroom of young upstarts. Townsend taught law at Georgia State University in Atlanta before moving to Steamboat.

"I've only got five to 10 years left in my legal career," he said. He'd like to spend those twilight years passing something on to the men and women who will one day fill his shoes.

Townsend is somewhat of an icon in the courtrooms of Grand, Jackson, Moffat and Routt counties. "He will leave a void," said Janice Forcum, who has worked alongside Townsend for two years. A public defender does not have the easiest role in the judicial system, and Townsend has done it well, longtime friend Schurman said. "He's passionate about what he does," Schurman said. Long hours and commitment to his clients characterized his tenure in Steamboat, he said.

In and outside the courtroom, colleagues and friends speak of Townsend's selflessness. "Norm is just such a generous guy," longtime friend Brian Harvey said. "He dedicates so much time to helping other people."

Townsend helped to establish the Steamboat Springs Youth Hockey Association, became a diehard weekend road warrior when Steamboat's young hockey players traveled out of town and did plenty of running around for the coaches. "I'm good at holding sticks," Townsend said.

Harvey introduced the younger Townsend to hockey about 10 years ago. He coached Charlie on and off and played in an adult hockey league with his young protege last year.

"It's come full circle," Harvey said.

The teacher-turned-attorney would say the same.

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