Colorado Supreme Court reprimands former Summit County Judge Mark Thompson over loss of temper

Days after he was allowed back on the bench following a disciplinary suspension for pointing a gun at his stepson, former Judge Mark Thompson reportedly told parties in a domestic relations case 'neither of them are fit to be parents'

Chief Judge Mark Thompson wears a mask in the courtroom during a hearing at the Summit County Justice Center in Breckenridge on April 28, 2020.
Liz Copan/Summit Daily archives

A former Summit County judge violated judicial codes of conduct when he lost his temper during two court proceedings last year, according to a public censure handed down Monday, May 15, by the Colorado Supreme Court.

Just two days after he returned to the bench after serving a disciplinary suspension for threatening his stepson with an AR-15 style rifle, now-former Judge Mark Thompson berated the attorneys in a case and threatened to have them jailed, the censure states.

A day later, Thompson “again acted with intemperance” by insulting the parties of a domestic relations case, the Supreme Court wrote in the censure.

“Thompson acknowledges that he has not fully resolved concerns raised in his prior disciplinary proceedings that relate to his ability to manage anger and maintain a respectful demeanor,” the censure states.

When he lost his temper in those two cases in November, Thompson had just returned to the bench from a monthlong, unpaid suspension imposed by the Colorado Supreme Court after he pleaded guilty to threatening his stepson with a gun in July 2021.

Last December, Thompson tendered his resignation in a letter to 5th Judicial Chief Judge Paul Dunkelman and State Supreme Court Chief Justice Brian Boatright, citing “personal circumstances.” 

Thompson did not return a request for comment left by phone Monday.

Thompson’s threats against the two lawyers came in a pretrial hearing on Nov. 15 as part of a 2020 personal injury civil case, according to the censure. A trial had been scheduled for the end of November. But earlier in the year, the defendant had died, and the lawyers missed filing deadlines.

The missed deadlines, as well as a lawyer not knowing how to substitute the defendant’s estate for the defendant, led Thompson to tell the lawyers he was imposing sanctions excluding evidence, dismissing the case and reporting them to the Colorado Supreme Court’s Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel, according to the censure. Thompson also told the lawyers he was inclined to pursue indirect contempt citation against them and that they should serve a week in jail as a sanction.

“He lost his temper on the record,” the Supreme Court wrote. “He berated counsel in a tone that was rude, condescending, and mocking.”

Even though Thompson said he was vacating the jury trial, he told the lawyers he would not vacate the jury call, forcing 80 prospective jurors to show up in court so that “Thompson could humiliate the lawyers in front of the prospective jurors,” according to the censure.

He further threatened the lawyers that if they did not do exactly as he told them, he would find them in contempt of court and have them jailed.

“I will immediately remand you into the custody of the Summit County jail, and it will be one heck of a long time until you see the light of day,” Thompson said, according to a recording of the hearing obtained by Summit Daily News. “Do you understand that?”

Thompson later walked back many of those statements and orders, writing in an order two weeks later that he was “disappointed” with his own “intemperance.”

Then, on Nov. 16, when a disagreement between a husband and wife arose during a telephone conference hearing in a domestic relations case, Thompson responded, “by insulting the parties,” according to the Supreme Court.

“The fact that these parties can’t come up with a parenting plan reflects to me that neither of them are fit to be parents,” Thompson said, according to the censure. “And I have deep, deep concerns that we’re just going to do this litigation dance for the next however many years, decades, it takes for these kids to get out of high school and get as far away from these two parents as they possibly can, which is, God-willing, what they’ll be able to do.”

Thompson submitted to the Supreme Court that the counsel’s noncompliance in the personal injury case was disrespectful to the court, the lawyers’ clients, the prospective jurors and the court system, according to the censure. He reportedly said it would have been appropriate for him to be “stern and scolding” to the lawyers but admitted that it could have been done in a less disrespectful manner.

The Colorado Commission on Judicial Discipline disagreed that the circumstances in any way excuse Thompson’s conduct, according to the censure.

“Thompson apologizes for mismanaging his anger and failing to maintain the professional demeanor expected of a judge,” the censure states.

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