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Retired judge Mark DeCaria, key to drug court’s success, dies at 70

By Mark Shenefelt - | Dec 14, 2021

Standard-Examiner file photo

Judge Mark DeCaria speaks to the audience after being sworn in as a 2nd District Court Judge in Ogden in 2009.

OGDEN — Mark R. DeCaria, a retired 2nd District Court judge and former four-term Weber County attorney renowned for his efforts to help the disadvantaged, died Sunday of complications from surgery to repair an aortic aneurysm. He was 70.

“He was one of those people who was on the right side of life,” retired Judge Roger Dutson, who preceded DeCaria on the bench, said Tuesday. “He was one of the good guys and I will always cherish his friendship.”

When Dutson and others were working to establish a drug court in Weber County, DeCaria’s support as the elected county attorney was pivotal, Dutson said. In drug court, a substance abuser charged with a nonviolent felony has a chance to have charges dismissed upon successful completion of a 12-month treatment and testing regimen.

“There was some opposition to dismissing felony drug charges even for nonviolent offenses,” Dutson said. DeCaria’s support for the program helped overcome political opposition.

“We kind of stopped the revolving door as much has been done by any other program,” Dutson said. “His support meant a great deal to me and to the people providing counseling. Without it, we would never have been successful in getting drug court off the ground.”

Mark DeCaria

Photo supplied, Meri DeCaria

Retired 2nd District Court Judge Mark R. DeCaria died Sunday, Dec. 12, 2021.

Barry Gomberg met DeCaria about four decades ago. Gomberg was teaching a constitutional law class at Ogden High School and DeCaria, then in private practice, volunteered to coach one of the mock trial teams. That began a 40-year friendship.

Gomberg said DeCaria was compassionate to the disadvantaged, such as in his work with drug court and his “foresighted acceptance of transgender individuals’ right and need to dictate their name” in name-change cases.

“He believed strongly that as a district court judge his role was to interpret the law that had already been established, but I think he was also able within that parameter to move the law in a progressive direction,” Gomberg said.

He said DeCaria showed intense interest in drug court participants. “He certainly was concerned about keeping the community safe, but he was willing and able to afford a person an opportunity to try to turn their lives around. If someone might relapse, he didn’t view it as a failure, but just another step along the road to reentering society.”

As a prosecutor, DeCaria was a rare commodity in Weber County — a Democrat who could win a countywide election. He served four four-year terms before then-Gov. Jon M. Huntsman Jr. appointed him to the judgeship in 2009.

“He was the only Democrat who could win such support,” Dutson said. “He was very popular among all politicians.”

Dutson said DeCaria’s friendly demeanor “could never be confused with anything other than that it was genuine.”

Gomberg, Dutson and DeCaria’s wife, Meri, spoke of the large network of friends the retired judge had.

“Mark had a huge love for life,” Meri DeCaria said. “He loved people and loved helping people. He was passionate about mostly everything. He was just such a fun and loving human being.”

She said her husband was in great shape and liked to bike, hike, ski and golf. But four years ago, doctors found the aneurysm. They monitored it as it grew, and two months ago, as the risks presented by the aneurysm increased, DeCaria made the hard decision to have surgery, his wife said.

“We did the surgery to extend his life, so he could dance with his grandchildren at their weddings,” she said. But complications from the surgery could not be overcome.

DeCaria, Gomberg said, “was just a beloved person. And barely 70 years old. He should have had a lot more time to live life with Meri and their two daughters and their grandchildren. It just feels really tragic.”

DeCaria attended St. Joseph’s Elementary School, graduated from Ogden High and attended Weber State University before graduating from the University of Utah. He received his law degree from Hamline University’s School of Law in Minnesota.

As county attorney, he helped form the Weber-Morgan Domestic Violence Coalition.

According to his obituary, the family will hold a celebration of his life next spring.

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