Fourth District Judge Patrick Owen was an Ada County deputy prosecutor for 14 years before he was appointed to the bench in 2007.
He felt more than ready for the job, but soon faced an unanticipated challenge.
“What surprised me about being a judge is how hard sentencings are to do,” he said of criminal cases. “I had been a prosecutor for many years but it never occurred to me that you lose sleep over sentencings, more than anything else you do.”
Owen, 64, is looking forward to retirement for many reasons — including not having to make any decisions at all, among them “what are we having for breakfast.”
One of 11 4th District judges, he presided over felony cases and civil cases exceeding $10,000 in both Ada County and Boise County.
His last day will be March 31, a retirement date he’ll share with another Treasure Valley judge, 3rd District Judge Juneal Kerrick, according to public notices. Another judge, the 4th District’s Timothy Hansen, plans to leave the bench Feb. 28.
Owen has lived in Idaho about 25 years. He and his wife, Teresa, moved to Boise from Anchorage in 1991.
The couple hadn’t planned to live in the Treasure Valley but Owen was charmed by Boise when he came here on a business trip. The couple had been looking for a city with shorter winters and more opportunities for their kids.
“I thought this was the nicest little town I had ever seen ... People were nice,” he said. “I think I came in early March, and it was 65 degrees outside, and nobody thought that was an event of the century.”
Gov. Butch Otter appointed Owen to the bench in 2007. He said he aimed to be like the judges who he admired: fair-minded and impartial, committed to the rule of law, prepared and respectful to the parties involved.
Among the most memorable cases for Owen was a foreclosure case filed by lenders after Jean-Pierre Boespflug, majority owner of Tamarack Resort in Valley County, defaulted on a $250 million construction loan in 2008, before the resort was finished.
“You don’t have a lot of cases where you have really excellent, seasoned and prepared lawyers on all sides of it that made it much easier for the judge,” he said. “They were very good.”
Other cases that drew the public’s eye: double-murder suspect Michael Dauber, a Clear Creek volunteer firefighter who set a wildfire that burned one Robie Creek home to the ground, and a ruling voiding the contract funding an attempted statewide education broadband network.
In reflecting on his career on the bench, Owen said he thinks he pronounces shorter sentences now than a decade ago.
“I just think you get more experience, and you see a broader picture,” he said. “And you have a greater appreciation about what it is to be locked up, and what that does to families. That’s not to say there aren’t severe sentences that have to be handed down for the protection of the public.”
Some retired judges make themselves available as “senior judges,” filling in for those who are absent. Owen said he has no plans to do that, but didn’t rule it out entirely.
He and his wife are looking forward to traveling. “We’ll probably put the dogs in the car and head down the road,” he said.
The Idaho Judicial Council will be tasked with making recommendations to the governor for Owen’s successor.
Business editor David Staats contributed to this story.