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A Tribute To Roland J. Brumbaugh

Roland J. Brumbaugh was elevated to the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Colorado in 1982, only a few years after the new Bankruptcy Code had become law. He joined the bench as a relatively unknown commodityBa mystery to those who practiced in the bankruptcy bar. Some fretted that this new jurist might be handicapped by a dearth of prior bankruptcy experienceBand his style, judicial demeanor and ability to control the courtroom remained untested. "RJ" soon erased all doubt, and over the next seventeen years he was instrumental in the maturation of insolvency law in Colorado and became one of the state's outstanding bankruptcy jurists.

Those who came before him learned to appreciate Judge Brumbaugh straightaway. His division was run efficiently and evenhandedly, and he quickly developed a sound understanding of bankruptcy law and procedure. Every barrister understands that there are no outcome guarantees in trial work, but in RJ's courtroom we garnered a prompt and fair hearing and a solid read of controlling legal principals. Even in those difficult years when the Colorado Bankruptcy Court was burdened with a demanding caseload his decisions were issued promptly and impartially.

Given the expansive jurisdiction vested in the Bankruptcy Court, RJ was called upon to decide a considerable variety of conflicts. In addition to deciding "pure bankruptcy" issues, federal and state claims sounding in contract, tort, statute and rule were before him, as were a cornucopia of commercial, corporate, real estate, natural resource, environmental, tax, domestic and other disputes. To each of these Judge Brumbaugh brought perspective, a searching intellect and a keen appetite for fundamental fairness.

On a more personal level, appearing in Judge Brumbaugh's division was a professionally satisfying experience. He expected the lawyers who brought matters before him to be fully prepared and to present their client's positions zealously, but RJ was not one to tolerate shenanigans. He expected the advocates to comply with the rules and to address the Court and each other with candor and professionalism. More than one lawyer learned that the swiftest paths to his ire were via avenues of dishonesty discourtesy and chicanery.

While RJ certainly radiated a decorous judicial demeanor when he took the bench appearances in his courtroom were not onerous. Even when handling matters of extraordinary gravity Judge Brumbaugh's discerning wit would emerge and he was quick to exploit humor when appropriate. Those who came back to chambers invariable found the judge and his staff to be accessible and warm. One left his division feeling that RJ set a truly professional toneBhe carefully attended to the work of the Bankruptcy Court while fully appreciating the pressures brought to bear on those who practiced in his courtroom.

To some not well-acquainted with him, RJ may have appeared to be an intensely private individual. Certainly the judge campaigned to avoid even the appearance of favoritism among, or cronyism with, those who regularly practiced law before him. But occasionally he would play a round of golf or have a toast with other lawyers. It was during these casual moments that one caught a glimpse of the man behind the robes. The frustration with talent that does not match a passion for a silly game played on links certainly bridged the gap between bench and bar. Eventually, nearly every one came to respect and admire this man for whom family comes first and for whom doing the right thing is more than slogan.

Judge Roland J. Brumbaugh is a good manBand he was a credit to the bankruptcy bench in Colorado. Win, lose or draw both advocates and clients knew that they had received a fair shake. RJ will long be well-remembered and greatly missed by those who had the privilege of practicing in his courtroom.


Glenn W. Merrick is a Shareholder and Director at Brega & Winters, P.C.; A Fellow, American College of Bankruptcy; Adjunct Professor at the University of Denver College of Law.