Vol. 31, No. 7
John E. Moye: A Profile of the New CBA President
by Diane Hartman
John Moye explains to participants at the Citizens Justice Summit what the day will have in store. The Summit, which brought together community leaders from across the state, was held April 20, 2002, at the University of Denver College of Law.
Peripatetic is not the adjective to use for John Moye. In fact, it doesn’t describe him at all, he says. Still, he and his wife Pam have been known to fly into Denver from the East Coast where he was teaching or working, take a taxi home, repack their bags, go back out to the taxi, and fly off immediately in the other direction. John describes himself as carefree and fun-loving, but a perfectionist.
"I am very involved in everything I do. Even though it appears my life is frantic and splintered, I really do have it under control and I enjoy everything I do."
Moye, 57, is the new president of the Colorado Bar Association (2002-2003 term). He’s a principal in Moye, Giles, O’Keefe, Vermeire & Gorrell. His loyal and faithful assistant Glenna McKelvy has been with him there for nearly twenty years, and John considers her a "huge part of the success of my practice and our law firm." The firm was started twenty-five years ago when some former students of his from the University of Denver College of Law came and suggested it. "They put the firm together, and I went down and started seeing clients. I’m the only original partner still there. I enjoy being called the founder of the firm, but, in fact, I was the last person in the door."
When he comes your way for bar visits, you won’t be able to miss him. While slightly built (the better to bike with), he has curly gray hair, intense blue eyes, and practically levitates with energy (although he only sleeps three or four hours a night). He works a room, passing out sincere compliments the way some people pass out business cards. John likes people and focuses totally on whomever he’s with, wherever he is: "It’s a matter of paying close attention when you’re doing something . . . you give it your best."
John swears he was born in Deadwood, South Dakota, and says no one believes him. His very busy mother gave birth to him, then walked out of the hospital and went back to work. "I was retrieved from the hospital by my aunt and raised by my grandmother. I was her project for sixteen years."
After surgery at age four to correct a crossed eye, he couldn’t go to kindergarten, so his grandmother taught him what she thought he would have learned. "When I went to first grade, I was testing at fourth-grade level—I knew how to tell time, read and spell." He skipped the first and fifth grades. He saw his parents sometimes for meals, but would always return to his Granny’s to live. He says she was "an angelic woman who obviously spent a lot of time making sure I grew up right. She taught me everything I needed to know to get along in life. She was a horrible cook, although she could make pie pretty good, and oatmeal."
Now, when he thinks back about his mother, who was the first woman public accountant in that area, ran a car dealership, and was elected county treasurer, he says he realizes he takes after her a lot: "She worked night and day."
High school seemed a little boring, and John admitted he could be disruptive. He was an editor of the school paper and yearbook, in the drama club, and played in piano competitions (he was the South Dakota state champion pianist, which he won playing Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto in C# Minor). There’s a rumor he played piano in a Deadwood brothel, but we won’t pursue that. "One of my significant memories is of having the superintendent of schools apologize to me at graduation when he realized I was an honor student. He had been convinced I was a failing good-for-nothing."
John went to college at 16, after applying only to Notre Dame. "My uncle used to bet on Notre Dame games—and win! My family is Catholic, and it was a pretty important school to my uncle. He said you’ve got to go there. Thank God I got in."
Still, "I failed the first semester . . . a D in English and four F’s." Embarrassed, he returned for the rest of the year and from then on made mostly A’s. But he had fun doing it—that’s one of John’s life themes you may detect. He had started to work as a disc jockey in high school and continued in college. "I had a very popular rock ’n’ roll show called Topsy." He was on the radio every afternoon. "Justice Greg Hobbs was on the air right before me, with a show called ‘640 Swing Street.’" At the same time, on the FM side of the dial, Harry Roberts (Judge Marcia Krieger’s husband), was playing classical music. Besides the Topsy show, John would DJ at parties, and do on-location events like the opening of car dealerships.
"I hated the Beatles. One day, instead of playing the normal top 40 on my show, I played ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ over and over. Then I climbed the transmitter tower and threw the record off, where a gathering crowd of angry listeners tore it to pieces."
Graduating at 20, John went to work for Plante & Moran, an accounting firm in Detroit. Part of his job was to audit the school district in Wayne County, Michigan, in the summertime—which sometimes meant counting t-shirts in an un-air-conditioned gym. He decided this was a really bad occupation. Law school seemed more appealing and, this time, he applied to two schools: "Harvard declined, Cornell accepted." Cornell it was.
He calls law school "really fun. . . . I approached it seriously, studied day and night," and he finished sixth in his class. He was set to take a job at a Wall Street firm when the Air Force called.
While John waited to get the bar results from the New York exam, the Cornell law school dean hired him as a research assistant to work on a book on Federal Jurisdiction and Procedure. At the end of six months, the manuscript for the book was pretty much completed. John was assigned to Lowry Air Force Base in Denver. The dean said that if John would finish the book, he would ask the publisher to put John’s name on the book as an author. John finished the book, but the dean called and reported that, without an academic affiliation, the publisher would not consider him an author. The dean said he’d call Bob Yegge (then dean at DU College of Law) to see if he needed a teacher for a semester.
"Dean Yegge called me and said he needed someone to teach UCC [Uniform Commercial Code], and asked if I knew anything about it. I said sure, I’d had a good class. That’s what started me there. It was a quarter course in UCC. Since the Air Force ends promptly at 4 p.m., it was perfect to teach in the evenings. I ended up teaching there for the next ten years. And West put my name on the book." (Later, he also served as DU’s associate dean for two years.)
These amazing situations seem to happen often to John: "I’ve had the opportunity to do a variety of things. When I found something that fit, I’d settle in. Later I would mess around and see if anything would be fun and comfortable—it’s been awfully rewarding."
Take one of John’s proudest accomplishments—he chaired the Denver Urban Renewal Authority and helped take downtown Denver from dark, empty storefronts to a vital place where crowds flock every day and night of the week. "They were wild and crazy, scary days," says Susan Powers, director of DURA when John chaired the board. "Everything we tried didn’t work the first couple of years, but John said, ‘We’re not going to let downtown die. . . .’ He was committed to not taking the buildings down." Susan said they went after people to invest in downtown; they issued bonds and spent money to encourage businesses to invest. "We had fifteen or eighteen projects downtown." Susan calls him "a special man—one in ten million. I don’t know how he does it all with such incredible grace." She added that he’s always had "a pretty visible civic balance in what he does . . . he’s always involved."
Another project he was and is still involved with is the Stapleton Redevelopment Corporation—he’s been a director since 1995 and was chair of the board from 1998 to 2000. John negotiated with the City of Denver for nearly four years to implement the Stapleton Development Plan for the abandoned airport. It was the first such project ever to be tried in the United States, and the project now is under active construction of new homes, shops, and village centers. He regards Stapleton as one of his finest accomplishments.
One of his closest friends is Jim Lyons of Rothgerger, Johnson & Lyons, who calls John "a pretty fertile subject," but suggested there still might be a statute of limitations on what he could say. "He was literally the first person I met when I moved to Denver in 1971." He and John operated a bar refresher course in Colorado and in Texas for five years. John went on to teach for the company that bought his and Jim’s course, BAR/ BRI. For nearly twenty-five years, John has taught new lawyers about passing the bar exam; he estimates that he has taught over 250,000 law students. John’s lectures are legendary—he was known for using rock and roll songs to illustrate legal principles, and nearly every law student during the decade of the 1990s heard John perform his "Contracts Rap" (a rap song of the substantive law of Contracts, sung by John to his daughter Megan’s accompaniment on a recording played on a boom-box).
Jim Lyons has many stories about those bar review days, including one about an early morning lecture he gave after a late night out with John. John showed up looking refreshed, made a motion to see if Jim wanted water. John graciously gave him a full glass—of vodka. "I sailed on, in worse pain than before." Another story has John only bringing two left dress shoes to a lecture—and teaching for four hours with his right foot stuffed into a left shoe.
According to Jim, John has "one of the highest energy levels of any human being I’ve been around. He seems to manage and thrive on having a dozen balls in the air. I think relaxation and down time are foreign concepts to him." John might deny this, citing his delight in three "of the most darling daughters in the world and five other stepkids acquired through blended marriages, plus lots of grandkids." He often vacations in Italy, where he has a home.
John has a long list of books and articles he’s written—often he has authored form books, a strange occupation, he said, but one he enjoys. He is or has been: chair of the board at the Colorado Historical Foundation; director of Denver Botanic Gardens; chair of the UCC Revision Committee; director of Downtown Denver, Inc., chair of the Colorado Board of Law Examiners; director of United Bank of Cherry Creek, United Bank of Monaco, and United Bank of Skyline; member of the Second Judicial District Judicial Nominating Committee; director of CLE of Colorado; trustee of the DBA; chair of the Denver Downtown Plan Steering Committee; president of The Law Club; director of the Colorado Ballet; chair of the CBA Long Range Planning Committee; board member of Colorado Rural Legal Services and Colorado Public Radio—and much more.
He said his mission during his presidency is to promote more community involvement among bar members—something he’s devoted his life to. He hopes to meet all Colorado Bar Association members at the new regional meetings planned for this summer and fall.1
1. For a list of these meetings, see this issue at page 52; see also Moye, "President’s Message to Members: The Bully Pulpit," in this issue, at page 51.
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