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MEEKER | Don Steerman has been practicing law in Lamar, Colorado, on the eastern plains, for 27 years. Now he brings his experience and expertise to Rio Blanco County as the attorney for the Department of Human Services (DHS).
Steerman is a 1981 Meeker High School alumnus. His family moved to Meeker from the Cortez area between his freshman and sophomore years. Now his youngest daughter, Becca, is finishing her high school career at MHS as a Class of 2020 senior, and his wife, Clea, is a math and science teacher at the school. The couple’s 21-year-old twins, a daughter and son, are at the U.S. Naval Academy and Western State College, respectively.
Steerman discovered his interest in the law during his U.S. Army service after high school. He attended Fort Lewis College in Durango and the University of Southern California in San Diego after leaving the military.
With a busy law practice in Lamar, Steerman has extensive experience with DHS cases, representing Cheyenne, Kiowa and Baca counties. He continues to serve as the county attorney for Kiowa and Baca counties.
“I have a good associate,” Steerman says when asked how he’ll manage clients and offices that are seven hours apart. “I can work on anything here at the office I could work on in Lamar. If it wasn’t for broadband I wouldn’t be able to do it.”
Steerman said Meeker could use another local attorney. As is the case in many professions, there’s a shortage of attorneys in rural areas. “The flavor of practice in rural areas is different,” he says. “You see the same attorneys every day. You have to try to work together and not be acrimonious.”
For his DHS cases, Steerman works to build relationships with the caseworkers. “I like a team approach between the attorney and the department. It’s helpful to be involved from the beginning [of a case].”
Steerman, who started work in RBC in September, took on about a dozen open cases. The county has experienced a surge in DHS cases in the last two years.
“What people don’t understand about DHS is it’s about the best interest of the children. The primary goal is to rehabilitate the family and return the kids,” he said. To accomplish that, caseworkers “always look at the least drastic alternatives” to removing children from the home.
“It’s a complex area of law, and every situation is complex.”
He acknowledges the challenges of DHS work in small towns, where everyone knows everyone. “Most of the time there’s a reason DHS is involved,” he said. “There’s always natural conflict in the community. It’s a hard balance to satisfy the people.”
By NIKI TURNER | firstname.lastname@example.org