Sudden Loss of a Community Icon Stuns Telluride
by Marta Tarbell
May 09, 2012 | 16296 views | 21 21 comments | 71 71 recommendations | email to a friend | print
TELLURIDE – The death of Sharon Shuteran on Saturday sent shock waves through the Telluride community, where she served as San Miguel County Court judge since 1984.

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.

Comments
(21)
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karensframe
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October 10, 2012
I just learned of Sharon's death, and I am deeply saddened. I met Sharon years ago when I was "matched" up with her for a room at her home when I was a volunteer at the Telluride Film Festival. She was a vibrant, beautiful woman, who I looked up to -- a strong woman judge who truly cared about the people who came in front of her. I aspired to be like Sharon (I'm an attorney too). Since volunteering at TFF, we remained friendly, and when my now husband and I decided to get married outside of Telluride, we asked Sharon to officiate our wedding and join us in our celebration. Sharon, you were a bright star and are surely missed by all who you lit up.
JimmyA
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May 10, 2012
Wow... very sad news, Ms. Shuteran was such a dynamic person, I liked her and respected her a lot. Could never bring my self to call her Sharon, it was always Judge or Ms. She will be in my thoughts and prayers.
CaroleC
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May 09, 2012
It's hard to believe that such a unique and wonderful woman is gone way too soon. About 26 years ago, Sharon & I backpacked through the Yucatan, quite an adventure. I last saw her at the Flamingo Fling street Party & dance April 1, 2011. Ageless, as beautiful and charming as ever. She will be missed greatly. Elliot, my heart is with you even though I only met you briefly at stages of your life. Sharon lived life to the fullest up to the moment she died.

Carole Chowen

tlk123
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May 09, 2012
namaste'

thanks for coming to have a final grok -

goodbye

terry kistler
muyativa
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May 08, 2012
I am in shock to learn of Sharon's death, as are so many of us. We were all deeply touched by her warmth, intelligence, compassion, and competence. My love and prayers to Eliot, Stephanie, and all who love and miss her.
rsublett
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May 08, 2012
San Miguel County has lost an exceptionally gifted judge who has served the community for as long as I can remember with fairness. She always ensured that justice was done, I know first hand and I respected her always. Another one of Telluride's finest has passed.
fotini
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May 08, 2012
i loved, respected her, and tended to her little garden for many years!!! she could always find a kind and encouraing word for anyone in any circumstance!! i will miss her forever!
jimbeamer
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May 07, 2012
Sharon was a lovely person and a just judge. She will be missed as both.
alohalin
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May 08, 2012
So very sad to hear of Sharon's passing. Such a nice person and in my 34 years of law never met a more fair decision maker when it came to her cases. My heart is with Eliot and her family and you will be very hard to replace in the judicial system and will be so missed in the community. Peace be with you now your Honor and god bless you.
jwwalls
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May 07, 2012
I first met Sharon at Reed College in 1970. She roomed with Barbara Hort, a friend from SF. Sharon and I were soul friends from our first meeting and it lasted for over 40 years. We would connect a few times a year and it was always heart warming.

I loved her very much for a long time.

My condolences goes out to the man she loved the most, Eliot. May you be strengthened by her many deeds of charity and love.

John Walls

sheriffbillmasters
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May 07, 2012
What shocking news. My family's thoughts and prayers out to Eliot.
jsakowicz
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May 07, 2012
Sharon was an exceptional human being...highly evolved as a spiritual seeker. I'll always remember her travelogues from places like Thailand or India. The work she did with the Telluride Film Festival was also important. And she was a decent judge. She talked about her son, Eliot, only with pride. S

Sharon Shuteran, The Band said it best: "May the long time sun shine upon you. All love surround you. And the pure love in you, guide your way on."

I'm sorry I never got to know you better.
arfrieman
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May 07, 2012
Terrible news, Sharon was truely a kind person.

Arnie Frieman
PaulCamm
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May 07, 2012
What a terrible loss for all of us. She was a guiding light in the darkness for many and a real wonderful friend and mother, to the lucky. I am proud to call her my friend and to have had her touch my life, so beautifully.

May all her dreams be her's for eternity
Lawry
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May 07, 2012
Horrible news.... Sharon was a dear friend and person of enormous integrity and generosity of spirit. Her zest for life and laughter will echo on in our home for a long, long time.

Our heart goes out to Elliott and to all who loved her as we did.

Lawry and Eileen de Bivort
grasshopper_mo
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May 07, 2012
With Sharon's passing, we have lost a dear friend in Tride, an adopted member of our family (she married our daughter and son-in-law) and a ceaseless volunteer for the Bhutan Cleft Care Project. May the memory of her deeds and aspirations be a guide for all of us committed to repairing the world, Jeff and Beki Marsh
RedFJ40
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May 07, 2012
Terrible news, she was liked by many and will be missed.
KalEl
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May 06, 2012
She was one of the best judges I've ever come across. Always fair, always curious.

San Miguel was lucky to have her.
johnhans
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May 06, 2012
What a tragic loss, what a fine woman, judge and friend. I will miss her so very much,
ehbrown
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May 06, 2012
Sharon will be missed! A fine and fair judge, a positive member of our community. Mother to a wonderful son Elliot. She will remain in my memory.

Eliot Brown
fredrodgers
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May 07, 2012
Sharon and I were colleagues in the state judges association as well as friends, and she sometimes contacted me in the middle of her hearings to bounce some ideas about an unorthodox application of law to a unusual factual situation. She was always interested in creative and cutting edge solutions to legal puzzles, as long as the outcome assured fairness to all. She would have been equally at home on the Supreme Court as she was on the San Miguel County Court. Fred Rodgers