Shuteran was equally prominent outside the courtroom, where she was a frequent volunteer to local festivals and nonprofits, a familiar presence on town streets, ski slopes and hiking trails, and a close friend to many.
Shuteran died of a heart attack on Saturday, May 5, on a morning hike near a friend’s house in Cabo Pulmo, Baja California. A search party found her body after she failed to return as expected. To have died abroad was also characteristic of Shuteran, who traveled the world extensively.
Shuteran, 58, was a fourth generation Coloradoan, and a 1978 graduate of the University of Denver law school. She started her legal career as a VISTA attorney for Legal Services in Denver, and then as a deputy district attorney. She arrived in Telluride in 1979, when she purchased the Excelsior Café, which she operated for 14 years.
Friends remembered her as unfailingly kind and generous; her colleagues, as an unfailingly fair judge. In the outpouring of grief everywhere, from her Facebook page to comments on The Watch website to countless conversations, there were recollections of her deep and wide-ranging interests and her extraordinary compassion for all who came across her path.
“Leave it to Sharon,” longtime friend Lynn Rae Lowe posted on Shuteran’s Facebook page, soon after news broke of Shuteran’s death. “She made her transition on the same day as the Buddha was born, enlightened and died.”
“She really touched more bases and with more presence than anyone I know,” said Shuteran’s close friend Marshall Whiting, who said a community celebration will take place sometime this summer.
(A plan previously announced for a service on Tuesday has been canceled, in favor of the summer celebration.)
“Sharon’s ego was not part of any of her behavior or activities; it was not in need of reinforcement,” Whiting said. “Her need was to be of help to others in the world, whether it was helping them to be a better driver or setting up the San Miguel Resource Center or doing a mock trial with students, which she did last week at the school.
“She showed up,” said Whiting, of Shuteran’s involvement in the world around her. “Sharon was the real deal,” both in her personal life and in the courtroom, where “she gave both love and instruction. If it needed to be there, she just laid it out, compassionately but fearlessly, trying in her own way to build a bridge to that person, to light the fire of ethics and of turning around their lives.”
In a statement released this week, Seventh Judicial District Attorney Dan Hotsenpiller praised Shuteran as someone who “did not just ‘move people through the system’ – she cared deeply about each and every defendant and worked diligently to find creative sentencing solutions,” carefully weighing “rehabilitation and punishment considerations to do the right thing for defendants, victims and the community.
“Aside from her long-term service on the bench,” Hotsenpiller wrote, “Judge Shuteran was active in countless nonprofit organizations. For the past several years, she traveled to Bhutan with a group of physicians and other volunteers to help children with cleft palates. She never slowed down, always getting involved and trying to make the world better.”
In the Seventh Judicial District’s Telluride office, attorney Keri Yoder remembered her friend and colleague. “I think we feel empty,” said Yoder. “I think everyone feels empty. She had such a strong presence. You always knew where she stood. She had her policies, and it was protective for me to be able to say, ‘The judge isn’t going to accept anything less than that.
“She really cared about everybody who came through there; she really cared and made sure they knew what their rights were and that they understood the process, and she wasn’t going to hurry them through, even if I wanted her to.”
“She is going to be missed; she was a very stabilizing person in the community, in a very important position of trust,” said Telluride Chief Marshal Jim Kolar, who praised Shuteran for “impartiality in her dealings.
“As the county court judge, it was important for people to have that level of trust.”
Just about everyone remembers the first time they met Shuteran. For former Telluride Mayor Amy Levek, that was in 1978, “when I moved to Denver and I had an instant circle of friends, through my brother, Ben. Sharon was an integral part of that – I had this instant circle of really wonderful people around me.”
Shuteran was key in Levek’s move to Telluride, not quite a decade later.
“She was the only person I knew when I cam here for an interview in February 1987, and she opened up everything to me. She opened up her house, she opened up her circle of friends; she just really made sure I met the people I needed to know,” said Levek, who came onboard as town planner a month later.
At the time, Shuteran and her then-husband, Peter Muckerman, father of her now-23-year-old son, Eliot, ran the Excelsior Café, on main street. “She’d go there in the morning to do the baking; then she’d go be a judge, and then she’d come back to check in to make sure everything was going OK. She made it look like a very easy way of life – all the different parts that were there.”
In more than three decades of friendship, Levek observed, “I never heard anyone complain about her, and I think that’s very telling.” In court, “I think people respected the fact that when they came before her, they were going to be heard.” As for Shuteran’s indefatigable volunteer work, for Telluride’s multiple festivals, Levek said, “I think that was her way of being involved in the community. She couldn’t be involved politically; she was so careful about that,” so for Shuteran, volunteerism at the local level was “her way of expressing her interest and caring about the place where she lived.
“Over the years, I talked with her about politics – she had definite views – but she’d say, ‘I just can’t talk about that.’”
Sometimes, the personal showed through, even in her official capacities – like when she married Levek and her former husband, Dean Rolley, 13 years ago.
“She cried during our ceremony,” Levek recalled. “She said, ‘I’ve got to stop. The judge can’t go on, with tears like this.’”
Shuteran’s son, Eliot Muckerman, is on his way back from Mexico, where he was vacationing with his mother, and is due home Sunday with her ashes.
“My mom, Sharon Shuteran, died yesterday of a heart attack on a morning hike in Mexico. She was an amazing person,” he wrote in a thoughtful and compassionate Facebook posting Sunday, announcing her death. “She touched so many people…. I can’t believe she’s gone. Thank you everyone for your support. Tell your parents you love them. Do it now.”
His mother would be so very proud.