Denver Bar Association
July 2008
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Making a Stand in Cowtown: Finding Community -- Part II

by Justice Greg Hobbs

 

Editor’s Note: This is the second part of a two-part article. Read the first part in the June 2008 issue.

Minds and Memories

"This one’s yours, Greg." Judge Doyle would hand assignments to me and my fellow law clerk after the latest batch of appellate oral arguments, held by the court at six-week intervals, had concluded. I’d research the law from the books in the court’s library, hand him back a draft opinion, and then hear him go to work on it. From our typed manuscripts, he would dictate the real opinion to his secretary. Based on his long career as a lawyer and a judge, he had a sure feel for short declarative sentences that set forth the facts, the law and the judgment.

Judge Doyle had great recall for the subject matter of opinions whose names he couldn’t remember but knew you had missed. Going back to the books for the authority you didn’t find teaches the apprentice lawyer a lifelong lesson in diligence and humility.

The Judge dissented from a colleague’s proposed opinion or wrote a separate concurrence only when he felt he must. "You have only so many bullets in your six-gun," he’d say. I took this to mean he deferred to the ability and performance of the assigned majority opinion writer, and expected the same deference to his proposed opinions. He believed the clients and attorneys deserved an answer just as soon as he could get them a good, clear one.

Learned, compassionate, practical and dedicated to the law, he modeled for me and many others the role of a jurist in the Colorado community. His former clerks include Carlos Lucero of the Tenth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals; Howard Kirshbaum of the Colorado Supreme Court; Norm Haglund of the Denver District Court; and Bruce Pringle, U.S. Magistrate Judge.

As the year progressed, some of the reasoning and language I proposed found its way into the published opinion; some did not. I remember the "Hair" case the best. Oklahoma City had banned this play from its Civic Center Music Hall because the Town Fathers found offensive the character of the naked, political, long-hair, draft card-shredding freak.

Too bad the opinion didn’t contain my suggestion: "The First Amendment isn’t reserved for ‘My Fair Lady.’" Instead, Judge Doyle’s per curiam decision for the court relied on a dearth of required trial court findings under the applicable U.S. Supreme Court First Amendment cases. He ruled that, "In view of the deficiencies in the record, we are unable to carry out a meaningful review of the obscenity issue."

Ah, the judicial opinion can be such a mighty understated megaphone! The court enjoined the ban with the back of its hand, and I learned once again that the Judge, not his or her law clerk, is responsible for the play going on.

Well-Married

I was wrong about Denver being a cow town, and I was most fortunate to have found Bobbie, a fourth-generation city girl whose great grandfather, George "White Wings" Tebeau, had fielded professional baseball teams in Denver starting in the 1880s. I met her on Baldy Mountain at the Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico during the summer of 1966, when we both worked as summer staff. She graduated from the University of Northern Colorado, a renowned teachers college.

Greg Hobbs and his wife Bobbie at Mesa Verde.

During 1971–72, she and three other women with young children started a pre-school for our kids and their kids. Within three years, Children’s Garden Montessori School moved out of our basements to its permanent location in the Cherry Creek neighborhood.

To this very day, I can’t go anywhere with Bobbie without parents stopping us to say their children had graduated college and owed their love of education to Children’s Garden. Just like our son and daughter, our granddaughter, Ella, enjoys the story circle best.

Bobbie still serves on the board for the school, but after thirty-one years unstuck herself from being the day-to-day glue. Now she’s free to go back to school. We both take evening nonfiction writing and poetry classes at Arapahoe Community College from the great Colorado poet and teacher, Dr. Kathryn Winograd. When we get home, we like to throw gnarly words for our cattle dog Strider in the backyard.

City for City

I grin at Bill Doyle’s photograph every morning as I get off the elevator on the fourth floor of the State Judicial Building. Photographs of our predecessor justices line the halls at the entrance to our chambers. Justice Doyle served as a member of the Colorado Supreme Court from 1959 to 1961, before President John Kennedy appointed him to the federal Bench. I say good morning to my law clerks — just as Judge Doyle did to me 37 years ago — and go to work in Denver, a mighty fair and interesting city at the foot of the great Continental Divide.

There’s the Civic Center, where the Capitol offices a governor who was the city’s district attorney. Denver’s brown cloud was removed, so you can see the mountains again. Moving West, past the Colorado History and Denver Art museums; there’s the new convention center, the junction of FasTracks lines coming in from neighboring communities, and the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. Then, there’s the restored historic lower downtown —"LoDo" in the vernacular (they stopped tearing down interesting buildings for there-will-come skyscrapers) — and there’s Coors Field, home of the 2007 National League Champion Colorado Rockies.

Justice Hobbs with is clerks, left to right, Shelley Dill-Combs, Pax Moultri and Matt Spengler.

The railroad yards are now reclaimed as offices and residential lofts; the confluence of Cherry Creek and the South Platte has been cleaned up for lunchtime kayakers. Bike paths and walking paths meander, and are well-used by Denver Broncos fans like Bobbie and me to enter the new stadium to watch our former striped-socks boys battle the Raiders and the Patriots.

Denver’s fine imagine-a-great-city mayors in the past two-and-a-half decades include a Latino, an African-American and an Anglo cultural arts pubmaster. Come August, one of our country’s two principal political parties will officially choose a candidate for President of the United States of America.

Land for Land

June 2008. Here’s my confession about being a Colorado-licensed lawyer having reached his thirty-eighth year. We left Denver for San Francisco after my clerkship. For eleven long months we paid the penance of missing the Great Divide. Rolling up the Yampa River toward Rabbit Ears Pass on vacation in September 1973, we knew we had to come back home. Judge Doyle’s parting shot to me had been, "Why don’t you make your stand here!"

In their growing years, as we’d head out on family trips to Rocky Mountain National, the Great Sand Dunes, or Mesa Verde, our son Dan (now the Executive Director of the Organic Seed Alliance) and daughter Emily (a Holland & Hart employment attorney) got used to me singing this refrain from a longer poem I penned in celebration of our returning to Colorado to stay:

I’ve seen the mountains falling,

heard the mighty canyons ring

with Colorado thunder

and clear blue mountain streams,

I’ve seen the nights grow brighter

and the days just shine in gold,

been looking for El Dorado

in the mountain of my dreams.

Justice Greg Hobbs has served on the Colorado Supreme Court for twelve years. Prior to that, he practiced environmental, water, transportation, and land use law as an enforcement attorney for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; the Colorado Attorney General’s Office; Davis, Graham & Stubbs; and Hobbs, Trout & Raley.


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