Judge Mark Thompson threatened lawyers with jail time prior to submitting retirement notice

Court records detail contentious hearing involving local judge two days after his disciplinary suspension ended

Chief Judge Mark Thompson wears a mask in the courtroom during a hearing at the Summit County Justice Center in Breckenridge on Tuesday, April 28, 2020. Two days after completing a monthlong unpaid suspension imposed after a disorderly conduct conviction, Thompson threatened two lawyers with jail time for missing deadlines ordered by the court.
Liz Copan/Summit Daily News archive

On his second day back after a disciplinary suspension stemming from a disorderly conduct conviction, a Summit County judge threatened a pair of lawyers with jail time, leaving one “frightened” and “fearful,” according to court records.

Fifth Judicial District Judge Mark Thompson made the remarks during a pretrial hearing on Nov. 15, just two days into returning to the bench following a monthlong, unpaid suspension. The Colorado Supreme Court imposed that suspension after Thompson pleaded guilty in January to threatening his stepson with an “AR-15 style rifle” in July 2021.

During the November hearing, Thompson also ordered the jury trial waived and filed grievances against both lawyers, according to court documents. He dismissed the case for failure to prosecute but later reopened it.

In a Dec. 5 order walking back the waiver of the trial, Thompson wrote that he “roundly admonished” the lawyers during the hearing but added that the court is “disappointed in itself for its intemperance.”

Thompson has since tendered his resignation and intent to retire, citing “personal circumstances,” in Dec. 18 letters to 5th Judicial District Chief Judge Paul Dunkelman and State Supreme Court Chief Justice Brian Boatright.

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

‘Screamed at by the court’

Thompson’s threats against the two lawyers came in a pretrial hearing on Nov. 15 as part of a 2020 personal injury civil case. In April, Thompson scheduled a jury trial to start Nov. 29 and set a Nov. 1 deadline for witness and exhibit lists.

“Why on earth should I not hold you both in contempt for violation of this order?” Thompson told the lawyers according to a recording provided by the court. He called the lawyer’s lack of filings “ridiculous” and “neglect of the highest order.”

The defendant in the case died in July, and his lawyer, Christopher Metcalfe, told Thompson during the Nov. 15 hearing that he didn’t find out about the death for several months. Metcalfe notified the court and the plaintiff’s attorney, William Falcone, of the death in an Oct. 27 filing.

Metcalfe and Falcone both declined to comment when reached by phone last week.

During the hearing, Thompson said the lawyers should have to explain themselves during a contempt proceeding before 5th Judicial District Judge Karen Romeo. At such a proceeding, he said he would “stand up and argue why you should both sit in the county jail for a week for wasting people’s time.”

“She can decide whether you’re in contempt,” Thompson said. “I’d find you both in contempt in a flash.”

After telling the two lawyers that the case was dismissed and there would be no jury trial, he said he would not cancel the Nov. 29 jury summons for 80 county residents but have them show up nonetheless.

“You’re going to explain to every juror that shows up — because I’m going to wait until the house is completely full — and then you two are going to get up and explain that you didn’t follow a single part of the court’s pretrial order and that you’re not prepared and that you’re asking the court to send the jury home,” Thompson said. “And you’re going to tell them what your names are and how proud of yourselves that you are for inconveniencing them. That’s what you’re going to do. And it’s going to be really crummy and uncomfortable for both of you.”

He threatened that if Falcone and Metcalfe didn’t show up for the jury summons, 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. “Do you understand that?”

The day after the hearing, Thompson issued an order relieving the lawyers and potential jurors of the requirement to show up on Nov. 29.

In a motion filed on Dec. 2, Falcone said dismissing the case would prejudice his client.

Editor’s note: This audio was lightly edited to remove names of parties in the civil case out of respect to their privacy and ongoing civil court case.

This audio was received pursuant to a public records request and contains a portion of the Nov. 15 hearing where 5th Judicial District Judge Mark Thompson threatened two lawyers with jail time for missing court record filing deadlines.

“I was taken aback and shaken at the loss of temperament that I was faced with. I was physically affected by lack of decorum and outright anger directed at me,” Falcone wrote in the motion. “I was frightened and still am fearful of how I will be treated in this courtroom. Quite honestly, I felt unable to provide an explanation as I was being screamed at by the court and being threatened with various repercussions including jail time.”

‘Significant emotional strain’

The Oct. 15 to Nov. 13 disciplinary suspension Thompson had just returned from days before the Nov. 15 hearing was imposed in August after he was convicted of disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor. Prosecutors originally charged him with felony menacing, but he pleaded to the misdemeanor charge on Jan. 14.

“The confrontation with his stepson was part of a larger context of events that caused significant emotional strain on Judge Thompson,” the Supreme Court wrote in the opinion ordering Thompson’s suspension. 

Recent illness and death in Thompson’s family as well as threats to his life stemming from his work as a judge contributed to the confrontation, according to the order, which also said he has actively engaged in anger and stress management therapy since July 2021.

On July 25, 2021, Thompson became angry when the stepson and his friend drove through the neighborhood while Thompson was on the street, according to Colorado Bureau of Investigation files Summit Daily News received through a public records request.

The stepson said in an interview with investigators that Thompson thought his friend was driving too fast past him. After the car pulled into the driveway, the stepson told investigators that Thompson came running up shouting, “Next time your buddy comes ripping up the (expletive) road, I’ll put a (expletive) .45 through his (expletive) forehead.”

Thompson has denied making this kind of statement. The Supreme Court opinion for Thompson’s suspension states that Thompson said the car driving by him made him fearful for his safety due to the threats on his life and he reacted angrily after finding out his stepson was a passenger.

According to the stepson’s interview with investigators two days after the incident, Thompson kept shouting once the car was in the driveway and the stepson went inside to retrieve some of his things. The stepson said Thompson followed him inside and confronted him in his room with an AR-15-style weapon. It was not the first time they had fought, but the first time a weapon had been involved, he said.

Thompson proceeded to put the barrel of the gun to the stepson’s ribs and push him with it, according to the interview transcript. The stepson alleged that Thompson chambered a round in the gun, although Thompson denied the weapon was loaded.

In an interview with investigators, the stepson’s friend, who remained in the car throughout the situation, described “so much aggression” coming from Thompson and recalled him saying, “If your friend drives like that again, I will put a .45 to his head.” The stepson’s friend denied speeding or being inebriated in any way. 

Out of fear, the friend said he FaceTimed another friend, who told investigators during an interview that he heard a commotion in the background of the call.

The stepson said Thompson has a history of outbursts and though he is calm 95% of the time, “That 5% of the time when he gets upset, he gets upset,” according to the interview with investigators.

“He’ll explode to the extent that there is no return,” the stepson told investigators, according to documents. “… Once he hits that flip, all rationality is out the window.”

‘Personal circumstances’

Thompson was first appointed as a 5th Judicial District Judge in 2010, according to his biography on the court’s website. He served as chief judge of the district from December 2013 until October 2021, when he was charged in the case arising from his confrontation with his stepson.

After being demoted from his position as chief judge, he resumed duties as a district court judge on Jan. 17. He would not have been given a criminal docket until the completion of the one-year unsupervised probation he received as part of his guilty plea, according to the August Supreme Court opinion ordering his suspension.

On Dec. 18, in a pair of letters to the 5th Judicial District chief judge and state Supreme Court chief justice, he said he would be retiring effective Jan. 13 because “personal circumstances leave me no alternative.”

The 5th Judicial District Nominating Commission is tasked with selecting nominees to recommend to Gov. Jared Polis, who will have 15 days to interview the potential judges and decide who will replace Thompson, according to a news release from the Colorado Judicial Department.

To select the nominees, the nominating commission will be meeting by video conference on Jan. 24 to interview candidates. With Thompson set to retire Jan. 13, the district court position will remain vacant for at least 10 days before nominees are even selected. The position could remain vacant longer depending on how long it takes Polis to interview and select a new judge.

Summit Daily News reporter Jenna deJong contributed to this report.

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