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Judge Larry Schwartz

A Renaissance Man Retires His Robes

July 2020

After 23 years on the Fourth Judicial District Court Bench, Judge Larry Schwartz retired in May. Still so much the picture of the ideal judge, he remains the beneficiary of one of the bench’s most flattering running jokes: From time to time, when judges involved in some public matter have been asked to supply their photos, they’ve often jokingly suggested substituting Judge Schwartz’s portrait for their own.

In other words, Judge Schwartz has been our ideal, with an iconic reputation derived as much from his debonair good looks as the heart beneath his robes and the sharp legal mind towering above. He doesn’t just look the part through and through. He is the very image of what all judges aspire to be.

A Model of Excellence

Judge Schwartz has somehow managed to maintain that sterling reputation despite having been randomly assigned more high-profile, legally thorny, and outright notorious trials than any other judge in recent memory. One year, he set the modern-day record on our bench for the number of days in court presiding over jury trials—we profoundly hope his record remains intact—and more jurors in El Paso County have likely had personal encounters with His Honor than with any other judge.

Coloradans should be thankful for their native son’s iron man constitution and constant excellence, because over the years Judge Schwartz has done nothing less than elevate the reputation of our judiciary to the rest of the state and beyond.

Known as a rare “judges’ judge” and rarer still as a “lawyers’ judge,” Judge Schwartz and a few colleagues sat next to each other at a judicial conference a couple of years ago while a criminal defense lawyer and a district attorney gave a case law update. During their presentation, they kept referring to how the judge in a notable case (“a very good judge—one of the best”) had rendered “perfect” findings, upon subsequent appellate court review. Later we confirmed what we’d all suspected: The “perfect” trial judge was none other than Schwartz, who sat silently, though probably somewhat abashed, throughout the presentation.

A Lifetime of Leadership

Judge Schwartz seemed destined to lead in one field or another. Raised in a humble home on South Cascade Avenue in Colorado Springs, he starred in three sports and captained the Wasson High School football team before matriculating in 1966. He graduated from the University of Colorado Law School in 1973, rising to assistant editor of the Law Review. Joining the Air Force at the end of the Vietnam War, he served as a Judge Advocate General in an active duty tour from 1974 to 1978 and went on to finish his military career in the Reserve, back home, at Peterson Air Force Base. Then came stints in the District Attorney’s office, several years in private practice as a lawyer, and a short break from the law as a commercial realtor.

Since his appointment to the district court bench in 1997, Judge Schwartz has accepted and excelled at every docket to be offered, including one of the most obscure—as our local, long-standing water court judge. (That’s anything but a routine rotation: The water docket is so highly specialized—akin to patent or admiralty law—that none of Judge Schwartz’s colleagues is exactly sure of what he does there; but we happily admit him as an expert in any and all matters pertaining to aquifers and tributaries.)

On more general legal matters, no judge on this bench hasn’t sought the advice or a second opinion from Judge Schwartz, drawing upon his enviable memory for case law and the computer research skills of a teenage hacker. His insights come with erudite analysis and, more often than not, humorous anecdotes of past exploits. His infamous refrain is: “I will be right behind you—all the way to the Supreme Court”—a mordant reference to rulings overturned by appellate courts (though they’re much more frequently upheld when their final destination is the Colorado Supreme Court).

Judge Schwartz’s amiability and self-effacing humor has helped many a judge get through seemingly impossible cases. He’s been the glue that’s kept the bench bound close, collegial, and sane. In his own quiet way, he’s been the most influential judge on this court in modern times.

Beyond the Bench

We fear for the bench’s temperament after Judge Schwartz’s mandatory age-based retirement, but not for the judge himself. He’ll probably continue to run to stay fit, as he did every day of his career, downtown, embarrassing much younger colleagues who tried to keep up. You might spot him in a heroic horseback pose. Years ago, he decided to commute the death sentence of a horse with no future; he became an accomplished equestrian, able to compete in both Western and English riding. He’s a gourmet chef known to spend entire weekends preparing fine dining feasts for friends who are glad to be greeted by the judge bedecked in his signature apron. For years he was known for throwing a massive barbecue at his home to honor new judges—soirees affectionately dubbed “Flaming Larry’s.” He’s an amateur woodworker who could shame Stickley, crafting exquisitely detailed small and large pieces of furniture in the shop behind his house. (He boasts of only once seriously injuring himself with all those power tools, pointing out that the scar is mostly hidden.)

In conclusion, Judge Schwartz retires a fit and well fed, discreetly maimed, and consummate Renaissance man who happens to be one of the greatest judges we’ll ever know.

G. David Miller is a district judge on the Fourth Judicial Court Bench, where he has served since 2002.

Coloradans should be thankful for their native son’s iron man constitution and constant excellence, because over the years Judge Schwartz has done nothing less than elevate the reputation of our judiciary to the rest of the state and beyond.