The Colorado Lawyer
Vol. 33, No. 7 [Page 23]
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Six of the Greatest
Conrad L. Ball
by Roger Clark
Conrad L. Ball
by Roger Clark
Roger Clark is with the firm of Clark Williams and Matsunaka, LLC and has been in general civil practice in Loveland since 1973.
I am delighted to have the opportunity to tell you a bit about the remarkable life of one of my favorite people in the law, Judge Conrad ("Con") Ball. After Judge Ball died, his family found these words written in his trial notebook: "An ancient wise man once said: ‘Fill the seats of Justice with good men. But not so absolute in goodness as to forget what human frailty is.’" Nothing epitomized Judge Ball’s career more, both in his legal practice and on the bench, than the tempering of justice with humanity.
At the Beginning
Conrad Lucky Ball was born July 9, 1907, in Gallatin, Missouri, the son of Robert J. and Theo Welden Ball. Missouri was a divided border state during the Civil War, and Gallatin was divided right down the middle, with proportionate shares of northern and southern sympathizers. During the time of Conrad’s youth, feelings about the war still ran high. His ancestors came from Virginia and Kentucky. Conrad’s grandfather, Alonza Ball, fought for the Confederacy for four years. At the war’s end, it took Alonza months to hitchhike back to Gallatin. Conrad, however, was a lifelong admirer of Abraham Lincoln, even though, as he sometimes joked, Lincoln had set his grandmother’s slaves free.
Conrad’s father, Robert Ball, was co-owner of the Gallatin Democrat newspaper. In 1919, a disgruntled drunk, upset about an editorial Ball had written, burst into the newspaper’s office and killed the newspaper’s co-owner, thinking he was Ball. Robert was grazed in the shooting. Due to guilt at having been the intended target, Robert Ball soon found himself unable to continue publishing the Gallatin paper. In 1922, he purchased the Loveland Reporter Herald newspaper and moved his family to Loveland, Colorado. Robert published the Loveland newspaper, assisted at times by other family members, until his death in 1938.
Con graduated from Loveland High School in 1925. He attended Colorado A & M (now Colorado State University) for a year and then enrolled at the University of Colorado School of Law, where he graduated in 1930. At the University of Colorado, Conrad was honored as a member of Order of the Coif.
In August 1931, Conrad married Clara Vorreiter, the daughter of pioneering Loveland merchants. In 1920, Clara’s father had built the Rialto Theater, lauded in its day as the "finest theater north of Denver." It has been restored in recent years to its past glories. Clara and Con loved to travel. After their marriage, they visited Europe in 1932, with a stopover in New York City. Upon his return, Conrad was asked to recount his greatest experience during the trip. Without hesitation, Conrad responded: "Seeing Babe Ruth in Yankee Stadium."
After law school, Conrad was associated with Lee, Shaw and Bryans in Fort Collins until 1933, when he was appointed Associate General Counsel to the Farm Credit Administration in Wichita, Kansas. Although that position brought him great success, Conrad always wanted to return to Colorado to live on Lake Loveland, practice law, and raise his three children with his wife Clara. He eventually did just that.
Acting on his dream, in 1946, Conrad moved back to Loveland and established a partnership with prominent local attorney Herman Seaman. In 1948, Con and Clara built their dream home on Lake Loveland, where they lived the rest of their lives. And what a life they had! Conrad Ball was quickly recognized by his community and his peers as a brilliant attorney, with unmatched competence, dedication, integrity, and love for the city of Loveland.
Public service was a hallmark of Conrad’s career. He organized the Loveland Memorial Hospital Association in 1951 and did all its legal work pro bono. In addition to his private practice, he served as Loveland City Attorney for more than twenty years. He also was a member of the Executive Board of the Colorado Municipal League and served as its president in 1951. He became recognized as an expert on municipal law throughout the state.
Conrad founded the Loveland Methodist Foundation for the First United Methodist Church in Loveland. He also helped found the Home State Bank, because he felt Loveland needed at least two major banks. Moreover, Conrad served on the local school board for fourteen years. After leaving the school board in 1961, he served as its attorney until 1968. His commitment to the children of Loveland was recognized in October 1973 when the Conrad Ball Junior High School (now Conrad Ball Middle School) was dedicated.
At the dedication of the school, Federal District Court Judge Hatfield Chilson eloquently recounted the details of the distinguished career that led to the school’s dedication in Conrad Ball’s name. Judge Chilson, a Republican, went on to note that Judge Ball, a Democrat, had perhaps only three faults: "selection of a political party (due, perhaps, to parental influence and immaturity); the Yankee baseball team, which could not be all that wonderful; and at the pool table, he never learned to bank a ball into the side pocket." Judge Chilson went on to note that during the years when group singing was popular in Loveland, Conrad "was the only one who knew all the verses of ‘The Man on the Flying Trapeze.’"
And what was Conrad Ball’s reaction to so much praise? A local Baptist minister had given the program’s invocation. Con, a life-long Methodist, responded to Judge Chilson’s kind comments: "For the last twenty minutes, I’ve tried to decide if I’m alive. It’s not as easy as you think. If I’m alive, then why are all these nice things being said? If I’m not, what’s this Baptist preacher doing here?"
Judge and Honored Citizen
Conrad’s service to his profession and community even allowed him to hurdle political barriers. A life-long Democrat in a heavily Republican community, in 1969 he was appointed to the Eighth Judicial District Court by Republican Governor John Love. He was the second district court judge appointed under the new merit selection system established in Colorado in the late 1960s.
Con was later elected to the presidency of the Colorado District Judges Association and appointed to the state of Colorado’s Judicial Qualifications Committee. He also was a founding member of the Larimer County Community Corrections Board. Every year, that group gives an award in his name for service furthering respect for the law.
Conrad also was prominent in Bar Association matters. He served on the Colorado Bar Association ("CBA") Board of Governors for sixteen years. In 1975, Conrad received the CBA’s highest honor, the annual CBA Award of Merit. In 1989, the CBA Board of Governors passed a resolution honoring his dedicated service to the Association. May 2, 1989, was officially proclaimed "Conrad Ball Day" in Loveland. On the same day, he received the CBA Certificate of Appreciation for service as distinguished member for sixty years.
Family was always fundamental in Conrad Ball’s life. At his death, many remembered that as his children were growing up, he would not schedule appointments after 3:00 p.m. in the summer, so that he could go home and play ball with them.
Judge Ball’s wife Clara was as much a Loveland legend as her husband. She was never inclined to hide her light under any bushel. From a prominent, founding Loveland family, she remained influential throughout their life together. A graduate of Colorado College and Simmons College in Boston, she served as a librarian for eight years at Denver’s North High School. Along with numerous civic endeavors, in 1977 Clara wrote and edited the Loveland Centennial Book, a history of the city of Loveland.
Clara loved Broadway musicals. Every two years, the couple went to New York City to see the current hits. Clara would purchase the long-playing record, all the sheet music, and the book. Upon their return to Colorado, Clara would reproduce the shows for her Loveland friends, singing all the parts to piano accompaniment from such scores as "Guys and Dolls, "My Fair Lady," and "The Music Man."
Conrad and Clara’s children have followed in their tradition of service. Their daughter Mary Blue represented the Longmont area in the Colorado legislature for a term, served six years on the Colorado Supreme Court Nominating Committee, and recently completed a term of eight years on the Board of the Regional Transportation District, including four years as chairman. Their son Robert has worked as a public defender in Chicago and now in Stockton, California. Richard has been a prominent attorney in Loveland since the early 1970s and still lives in Conrad’s dream house on Lake Loveland.
As you may have guessed by now, Conrad was a lover of baseball, and a notorious supporter of the New York Yankees. He referred to Yankee Stadium as "the Temple." Once, when I was trying a case before him, his response to a rather convoluted argument (fortunately to opposing counsel) was as follows: "Counsel, I know it’s April and baseball season has started, but I’ve got to say you’ve got me out in left field." After an extended explanation from counsel, Judge Ball noted: "Now I see, counsel, we’re both out in left field."
As a jurist, Judge Ball was loved and respected by his peers and by those who practiced before him. He believed in judicial efficiency and was famous for courteously, but firmly, moving matters along. He often used self-effacing humor to make his point. Once, when I had made the same trivial point on numerous occasions, he observed: "Mr. Clark, I know that I am just a judge, but give me credit for a little common sense."
Virtually every lawyer who practiced before Judge Ball could fondly recite similar anecdotes. Once, his bailiff laughingly told me that during a recess in our trial, the judge had observed, "I don’t know why the lawyers are casting so far out when the fish are jumping around the boat." In his first judicial evaluation, one attorney noted "his extreme consideration for the time and convenience of the lawyers appearing before him." He never forgot what it was like to practice law. Whether he decided your way or not, Judge Ball approached every case with a high level of legal understanding, courtesy to counsel and litigants and, especially, common sense and practicality.
Judge Ball’s humor endeared him to the lawyers of Larimer County. Fort Collins attorney Jim Johnson was known for generously opening his doors to local lawyers for the conviviality and card-playing that followed the semi-annual "term day" meetings of the Larimer County Bar Association. When Johnson was elected to the U.S. Congress in 1972, Judge Ball entered the following order in the best interests of the preservation of the Association:
IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED, ADJUDGED AND DECREED that the said Congressman, in the event he closes his home in Larimer County and moves to Washington, D.C., shall reopen his own home twice each year upon the occasion of the meeting of the Larimer County Bar Association for the usual matters of course and otherwise which must be conducted in said home if said association is to remain active and vital. In no event shall said home be sold without a majority vote of said Association.
Dated this 8th day of November 1972
Conrad L. Ball
In 1978, after receiving a favorable decision from Judge Ball, I found myself walking down the halls of the Larimer County District Court. Suddenly, a hand from behind firmly grasped my shoulder. I turned. There was the judge. "Roger," he said, "[opposing counsel] just filed a Notice of Appeal. This is the eighth time he has appealed one of my decisions. He’s never won one. And [looking very directly into my eyes] he’s not going to win this one either, is he?" "No sir," I mumbled.
Along with his self-deprecating humor, Conrad was famous for helping Loveland’s downtrodden. Everyone in town knew "Louis." Louis walked downtown Loveland constantly, always in a pair of old overalls. For decades, Louis knew where he could always get $5 if he really needed it: Conrad Ball’s office. A few months after Louis died in the 1980s, Con came by my firm’s office, dressed in overalls, to talk about a legal matter. I casually mentioned the overalls. Con’s response: "Well, I thought since Louis died, Loveland needed some other old bastard, wandering around town in his overalls."
At his death on September 7, 1989, Conrad’s intelligence, compassion, humor, and love for the common man were remembered. From his judicial and attorney peers come the following epitaphs:
—-He made it a point to visit everyone he worked with. It was part of his personality. He never had any sharpness or bitterness or envy toward anyone.
Chief Judge John-David Sullivan
—-Many people see the law as a business, but he loved the law. When he practiced, it was in a different era—one of public service. . . . The law was really part of his life, second to his family. He was the embodiment of every sense of the word "judge."
Judge William Dressel
—-He always had time to talk to young lawyers and give them advice. He was a person who had a gift for seeing the essence of the problem. He was a person with a heart of gold.
Loveland Attorney Robert Ausenhus
My longtime partner Lynn Hammond followed Conrad in the position of Loveland City Attorney. On the occasion of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Loveland Rotary Club in 1994 (Con was president in 1948), Lynn observed:
Con was honest and simple in the most elegant manner. He didn’t mince words; he didn’t care for boasters and was not very tolerant of self-proclaimed, self-made men. He seemed to hold reverence for unaffected, plain-speaking people and especially enjoyed being in the company of children. . . . He seemed to live by the maxim: "There is no limit to what you can do as long as you don’t care who gets the credit."
Conrad Ball’s humanity, his dedication to community service and to family, and his love of the law and of lawyers are sources of continuing inspiration to lawyers in the Eighth Judicial District and throughout Colorado.
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