Published: Jan. 11, 2006

By Christine Reid, Camera Staff WriterThe tables were turned on Boulder District Judge Dan Hale on Tuesday when he learned he had been judged the state's top court officer.Hale accepted the title as Colorado's "Outstanding Judicial Officer" of the year at a surprise party at the Boulder County Justice Center the only way he could - overflowing with humility and a couple of tears."Clearly ... my name is on it, but a lot of peoples' names belong on it," said Hale, 61. "Why don't we go to the next thing."Gathered in the jury assembly room were clerks, reporters, deputies, victim advocates, attorneys and judges - all to tip their hat to the judge who was described by the 31 people that nominated him as grounded as the cowboy boots he sports to work everyday."Compassionate, supportive and caring - it doesn't matter if you're an employee or a defendant," Chief Judge Roxanne Bailin said of her colleague.Hale was raised in the tiny town of Kit Carson on a farm. His family moved to Boulder in 1961, the year Hale graduated from Boulder High School.Hale got his undergraduate and law degree from the University of Colorado, and then worked as a chief trial deputy for the Boulder County District Attorney's office from 1971 to 1976. He went into private practice as a defense attorney for the next 20 years before his appointment in 1996 by Gov. Roy Romer to the bench."The thing about Dan is he honestly cared about all his clients," said David Harrison, Hale's former law partner. "He used to get a lot of background information, and if they had some underlying problem he would try to help them with that. He really did work to get people the help they needed apart from his role as their lawyer."That attribute spilled over to his work on the bench, according to the nomination letters. He often receives letters from prison inmates thanking him for the way he handled their case, his clerk Lisa DeLeon said."He is just as comfortable in his apt handling cases and discussions of law as he is chatting with staff members about their children's activities or flipping burgers at the annual staff cookout," District Court Magistrate Norma A. Sierra wrote in her nomination letter.When up for retention by state voters, Hale has always received high marks from attorneys and others who have passed through his courtroom.The Twentieth Judicial District Commission stated in its last report of Hale's job performance that he received the highest ratings from attorneys they had ever seen.More telling, however, is the way Hale treats those around him such as court reporter Susan L. DeWitt. When she was diagnosed with cancer, she said Hale helped her navigate a complicated health care insurance system and offered his support to her entire family. He also dropped by during her chemotherapy recovery to visit and brought her scarves and a wig to cover her balding head."He does for the judicial system what he does for me personally; he works with care, compassion and knowledge," DeWitt wrote to the nominating committee.