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TCL > June 2005 Issue > Sailing Away on a Stream of Consciousness

June 2005       Vol. 34, No. 6       Page  23
Features
CBA President's Message to Members

Sailing Away on a Stream of Consciousness
by Steve C. Briggs

Steve C. Briggs
Stream of consciousness:
". . . multifarious thoughts and feelings . . . without
regard to logical argument or narrative sequence."
1

 

 

 

This is my last President’s Message. It’s a potpourri of reflections on the past year. To the extent that any one segment irks you, it is agreed that you may ignore it, or even curse it, and move on to the next.

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Our republican form of government cannot survive if our elected representatives continue to allow their votes on complex issues to be determined by public opinion polls. The responsibility of our political leaders is to educate themselves and vote for the public good, not pander to popular prejudices.

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Our CBA Director of Legislative Relations, Michael Valdez, does everything during the legislative session. This includes being gracious enough to pick up the doughnuts and make the coffee for the weekly early-morning meetings of our Legislative Policy Committee. Michael noticed that I wasn’t crazy about that powdered non-dairy creamer made up of those mystery chemicals. One day, without my saying a word, fat-free half and half showed up by the coffee machine. Thanks, Michael. Little things really do make a difference!

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Speaking of staff, Dana Collier Smith is something else: competent, careful, and creative, and at the same time devious, devilish, and delightful. While providing me with every last detail I would need for my next regional Bar visit, invariably she would include in her e-mail another whimsical, caustic, or just plain silly aside. One of things I’ll miss most about this job is our regular rounds of repartee.

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Like laughter, enthusiasm can be contagious. I had the privilege of experiencing this while listening to Paul Chessin, Assistant Attorney General and member of our Judiciary Section. He was addressing a subject that, in itself, did not make my heart beat fast with excitement: an explanation of how oral arguments in our appellate courts could be voice-streamed to everyone who owned a computer, just like we already do for our state legislative hearings. It was his personal energy and commitment to the project that was so engaging. I’ve since had the privilege of watching this abstract concept move toward reality.

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Chuck Turner and his computer-savvy staff have been at the forefront of implementing technology to benefit our members. My prediction: The new online research through Casemaker, now available to our members, will rank right up there with The Colorado Lawyer and our CBA Web page as our most popular member benefits. (The fourth great member benefit, though less utilized or appreciated, is the incredible, multi-talented CBA staff, there to respond to every question and concern from our members.)

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Speaking of Chuck Turner: he celebrated his 25th anniversary last month as our CBA Executive Director. The dinner in his honor on May 6 was a highlight of the year. Can you imagine twenty-five years of dealing with the personalities and egos of all of these different CBA presidents? Not to mention that, by now, I’m sure Chuck ascribes to Dave Barry’s belief: "The single greatest hindrance to the advancement of civilization can be described in one word: meetings." Congratulations to Chuck anyway for a wonderful accomplishment!

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Funny what sticks in the mind after a whirlwind year as CBA President. A sublime moment came at the regional bar visit in Alamosa. Before the luncheon, I was privileged to have a great conversation with Ray Miller, San Luis Valley Bar President. With his gentle drawl, he weaved together stories of his younger days as a professional rodeo rider and his current legal work on behalf of children. It was mesmerizing how Ray could combine such a low key and enjoyable conversational style with such obvious passion.

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A system of justice based on the Rule of Law is necessary, but not sufficient for the survival of our society. The divisions in this country grow deeper and wider. It seems to me that nationalism is in part about creating group identities through exclusion. The same patriotic ardor of nationalism that can lead us to topple terrorists and tyranny abroad can lead us to despise dissent and diversity at home.

This country seems hell-bent on applying nationalism to every segment of our society, no matter how small. The problem is not special interest groups, but rather attached notions of superiority (the other side of the coin of fear of the unknown), and its steady companion, intolerance.

Spirituality is in part about creating large group identities through inclusion. The same humility and wisdom that can lead us to recognize others as our equals can lead us to have the courage to celebrate dissent and diversity at home.

We must somehow learn to better balance our nationalism and our spirituality.

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Exhilaration is not the word I would use to describe my feelings when listening to CBA Treasurer John Holt or Deputy Executive Director Greg Martin summarize the most recent CBA financial spreadsheets. It has much more to do with me, and the sound financial condition of the CBA, than with them or their delivery. As I would listen, I would think how lucky we are to have people like John and Greg in the world to take care of people like me in the world.

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Another sublime experience: I had completed a delightful regional Bar visit in Delta, where my friend, former Court of Appeals Judge Ed Ruland, had nobly filled in at the last minute as our luncheon speaker. After the afternoon programs, I strolled the trails along the confluence of the Gunnison and Uncompahgre Rivers, watching a splendid sunset. The next morning brought a fun round of golf with Chuck Turner on the beautiful Delta golf course, with its breathtaking, panoramic vistas. When we finished, I started home down the back roads, through rolling hills filled with beautiful orchards. It wasn’t long before I stopped at a tiny country store to check the price of fresh fruit. I ended up not only with delicious fresh fruit, but also a free hot lunch, while listening to a terrific bluegrass band under an outdoor tent pavilion. Turned out it was the store’s annual "Customer Appreciation Day." Boy, did I appreciate it!

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A lot of serious business takes place around the CBA. Every now and then we have to lighten up. That’s why I took time to share with our Board of Governors at the November meeting in Colorado Springs an incident that had occurred at the regional Bar visit in Alamosa. It was homecoming weekend for Adams State College. Rooms were scarce, and our last-minute accommodations were at a questionable motel. When I checked in, I called the desk clerk and said, "I gotta leak in the sink." He responded, "Go ahead, everyone does."2

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The high point of my year as CBA President came when the CBA Executive Council unanimously adopted my resolution calling for the CBA to join and support a broad-based coalition’s efforts to pass a ballot initiative to amend TABOR. The low point came scarcely a month later, when the coalition decided that it was not feasible to go forward with the effort, in large part because of the vocal opposition of some of our so-called political leaders. I have watched those same politicians in recent months suddenly discover the immediate need to fix TABOR but, to save face, insist on only a temporary fix when a permanent fix is desperately needed. I’m reminded of Lily Tomlin’s observation: "No matter how cynical I get, I just can’t keep up."

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As disillusioned as we may get with the political process, we can never turn our backs. Too much is at stake. As lawyers, we have too vital a role to play. I just keep returning to a favorite saying: "I am only one: I cannot do much. I am one: I can do something."

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Sometimes, the job of CBA President requires that you just have fun. Such was the Saturday on board the Young Lawyer’s Ski Train to and from Winter Park. To Julie, Daniel, Stacia, Michael, Ryan, Lori, Bryant, and the rest: thanks for humoring me and making me feel like a young lawyer again. (Sorry gang, but I still think Perry Como was way more hip than Sheryl Crow and Counting Crows combined.)

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Speaking of Sheryl Crow: Never has our poor editor of The Colorado Lawyer, Arlene Abady, been so taxed in trying, tactfully but firmly, to guide the rantings of a CBA President into something fit to print as a President’s Message. Arlene’s mantra this year has undoubtedly been the words of one of Sheryl’s songs: "No one said it would be easy. But nobody said it would be this hard." Arlene, please know that working with you has been a special pleasure.

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Defying all expectations, the CBA staff was continually nice to an officious, intermeddling CBA president, who only by the time of leaving was starting to figure out why he had been of such little help. If the staff were to draft an epitaph for the demise of my term, it would read something like, "Finally, he has no more complaints." Hearty thanks to all the CBA team for helping make my year so enjoyable.

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Special thanks to Jeanne, for putting up with more receptions and dinners and lawyers than any non-lawyer spouse should have to endure in any one lifetime. Her unfailing encouragement and good humor through it all were beyond the call of duty. Special thanks also to JAG President, Jerry Lockwood, for being not only tolerant, but supportive of my commitment of time and energy to the CBA these last two years. Jerry will hate me saying this, but beneath his good ol’ boy banter and teasing beats as generous a heart as I have ever encountered.

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As CBA President, I may have occasionally made comments in my talks and in these President’s Messages that some of you have found disquieting, even upsetting. Please know my goal was never to be provocative. It’s just that I’ve had a rare opportunity to speak from the heart about our profession and legal system. It’s nice to look back over the year and say with a smile, "No retreat. No surrender. No regrets." Thanks to all of you for allowing me to serve as your CBA President. It was truly a privilege and a pleasure!

NOTES

1. The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. (2001).

2. This is NOT a true story. I note that in this footnote for a reason. Past CBA President Ben Aisenberg couldn’t resist teasing me about how much he has "enjoyed" my President’s Messages. He said they were so wordy, he just skipped the text and read the footnotes. Ben, this is a test!

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