Vol. 30, No. 2
Profiles of Success
Bruce T. Buell
by Philip Gauthier
The Colorado Lawyer publishes profiles of practicing lawyers on a quarterly basis. The CBA Profiles Committee chooses Colorado Bar Association members who are nominated as outstanding lawyers by their peers. With these profiles, the CBA hopes to: promote the image of lawyers by emphasizing qualities that should be emulated; show the benefits of public service to both the lawyer who serves and the community; emphasize professionalism; provide role models for new lawyers; manifest ways of becoming successful and respected; and reward deserving lawyers for their contributions to the profession. Standards and procedures for these profiles differ from those established for the annual July issue featuring outstanding lawyers in Colorado history. These profiles of lawyers are an opportunity to highlight the qualities that are important for effective lawyering in today’s legal practice. We welcome feedback at any time. Please send your suggestions, comments, or questions about this ongoing feature to: Arlene Abady, Managing Editor, 1900 Grant St., Ninth Floor, Denver, CO 80203; (303) 824-5325; fax, (303) 830-3990; e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bruce T. Buell
Bruce T. Buell has written that his mom and dad were his childhood inspiration as "they were both leaders and the social conscience of the town." An offspring’s common dedication, perhaps. But in this case, Bruce Buell is an example of what one man’s life-long adherence to such parental principles can accomplish.
Those who know Bruce can attest, and those meeting him for the first time through this profile will come to learn: he has inherited his parents’ attributes. He, too, is an inspiration to others, and throughout his life he has devoted himself to his family, his profession, civic affairs, and helping those in need.1
Bruce was born in Pueblo in 1932, the youngest of three boys of banker Jewett C. and home-economics teacher Eva Buell. He was raised in Ordway, a 1,200-population community in eastern Colorado. "We grew the cantaloupes for which Rocky Ford (twelve miles south) became famous." Bruce noted, "I was in Boy Scouts, high school football, basketball, and baseball. I played tennis on the side, the French horn in the school orchestra and band; also played drums and had my own dance band." Bruce was active in the local Methodist church, worked in the newspaper/print shop, at the J. C. Penney’s store, in the bank, and on surrounding farms (he had his own horse). He graduated from high school, along with sixteen classmates, in 1949. His early life served to forecast his future: he showed potential and ambition and soon set a course that would guide him to a multi-faceted career.
The Study of Law
Bruce entered Princeton University in the fall of 1949—"quite a contrast in many ways," he notes. He enrolled in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and remembers seeing Albert Einstein walking around campus in his old sweatshirt and sneakers. Bruce also made his mark at Princeton by becoming President of the Band. In this capacity, he "engineered the wildest plaid blazers as a new uniform for the band," which were "the object of shock and some derision." He proudly notes that almost fifty years later, they are still the "uniform" of the Princeton Band.
Bruce and his wife Joan.
The most important events from his undergraduate experience were that Bruce met a young "whipper-snapper" by the name of Bob Yegge,2 who became a friend; took a course in Constitutional Law in 1952 from the "awesome" Professor William Beaney;3 and married "the lovely Joan Souders" in 1953, five days after his graduation (magna cum laude).4
Prompted by the Korean "police action," then a high-profile affair, Bruce attempted to obtain a commission in Naval Intelligence ("not an oxymoron"), but none was available. Instead, he enrolled at Harvard Law School, but after one semester, his Navy commission came through. His first tour of duty was at the Pentagon in counterintelligence and security control. Some of his service buddies were taking courses at George Washington Law School’s night division. He joined the group—two hours a night, five nights a week, twelve months a year—for two years. Because of this, Bruce says that, to this day, he appreciates the hardships and struggles of those attending night law school.
After active service,5 his vision of returning to Harvard was doused when school officials would not allow credit for his work at George Washington. This provided an opportunity for him to do what he had dreamed about—return to Colorado and complete his legal training. He chose the University of Denver College of Law because it was close to his part-time job in the Trust Department at the Central Bank & Trust Company, which was to set the course of his legal career. He also admits that another reason to enroll was that DU’s Legal Aid Clinical Program was close at hand (an early sign of a social consciousness?).
"I’ve never regretted the choice of the DU law school. It was fun, the profs were great and friendly (even a youngster by the name of Jim Carrigan who taught, of all things, Estate Planning and Taxation), and a smart kid, Dan Hoffman, and I got to compete for the top grade in many courses—he usually won." Bruce earned his LL.B. from DU in 1958.
The Practice of Banking Law
From DU Bruce began what became a thirty-seven-year association with the Denver law firm of Holland & Hart. "Bill Cantwell made me one of his protégés in trust and estate work, and Joe Holland and Claude Maer let me take over the work for the Colorado Bankers Association." Estate and bank practice became his dual specialties, with considerable time spent in corporate, real estate, and tax work. In the banking world, Bruce has served as counsel for his entire legal career to the First National Bank of Ordway; Jefferson Bank & Trust of Lakewood, 1971-76; counsel and secretary of the Colorado Business Development Corporation, 1965-83; and general counsel of the Colorado Bankers Association, 1961-85.
Many have wondered, and yes, it is true: Bruce was given the middle name of Temple after the late, well-known Denver architect, who was Bruce’s second cousin. "I had a pleasurable and productive eight-year association with ‘Cousin Temple,’ except for one unfortunate lawsuit that will, I am afraid, haunt my colleagues and me in drafting contracts with an eye for all foreseeable risks of possible litigation. But I did prove by that case that I did know the Rule Against Perpetuities and I didn’t even get to take Professor (Tom) Marsh’s course in Future Interests!" Temple Buell Foundation v. Holland & Hart and Bruce T. Buell has been a landmark case, frequently cited in seminars on professional responsibility.6
Bruce also cites a case he and Joe Holland won in the Colorado Supreme Court where Justice Robert McWilliams commenced his opinion: "To blend or not to blend, that is the question."7 The case involved approval of the mixture formula of a new gas pump, test-marketed in Colorado.
Bar Association Involvement
Highlights of Bruce’s outstanding involvement with the Colorado, Denver, El Paso County, and American Bar Associations are numerous. His initial interest was in the Probate Section and the Corporate Banking Section (of which he served as Chair) and in new legislation that mushroomed in the ’60s and ’70s: the Uniform Commercial Code ("UCC") and Uniform Consumer Credit Code "(UCCC"), for example. Bruce was the principal drafter and lobbyist for the first Colorado statute on the estates of missing persons and the Colorado Fiduciary Powers Act. He also was instrumental in the adoption of the Uniform Probate Code in Colorado. For a number of years, he served as a member of the Colorado Bar Probate Section Legislative Committee and was Chairman of the ABA Real Estate and Trust Law Section Committee on Trust and Estate Legislation. Bruce also led a Long-Range Planning Committee of the CBA, which produced a plan adopted in 1988 (he kiddingly adds that he does not think the plan has been looked at since).
Bruce is constantly looking for ways to help those in need. He often reminds his colleagues of the Rules of Professional Conduct, noting an ethical calling to rendering free legal services to those unable to pay. His ongoing social consciousness was manifested in two projects for which he will be remembered and of which he is justly proud. A turning point in his life came in 1982 when he took a three-month sabbatical and became the driving force behind the initiation of two well-known pro bono programs. At Denver Legal Aid, he helped devise a "Wills on Wheels" program, which provided estate planning to the elderly. The second program was the establishment of the Colorado Lawyer Trust Account Foundation ("COLTAF").
COLTAF and Other Community Concerns
COLTAF was a national, cutting-edge proposal allowing attorneys’ small, short-term funds to be deposited in a pooled interest-bearing account. The interest is paid directly to the Foundation by the participating banks. The income is used to provide civil legal services to Colorado’s low-income individuals, families, seniors, disabled people, and victims of domestic violence. Today, there are ninety-seven Colorado financial institutions that waive service and activity fees and remittance charges on COLTAF accounts.8
As a result of Bruce’s initiative and the enthusiastic support of the Colorado Bar Association, COLTAF was authorized by the Colorado Supreme Court in 1982 and, since that time, he says more than $15 million has gone into the Foundation. In 1991, COLTAF established the Bruce T. Buell Award due to his role as founder and noteworthy force of the group. He was named the Award’s first recipient. Moreover, deservedly, the Denver Bar Association honored him as Volunteer of the Year in 1982.
While Bruce was making an impact in the legal profession, he has followed his father’s lead in civic involvement and community contributions. He and his wife were active in Arvada where they made their home for twenty-eight years. He was one of a small group that helped found the Arvada Historical Society, of which Bruce has served as president. He served on the North Jeffco Recreation and Park District Board from 1976 to 1980 and proudly notes his leadership in the movement to establish the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities. Bruce also served on the Center’s Advisory Council and as its chair in 1978-79. He was named Arvada’s Man of the Year in 1983.
Remembering his roots, Bruce, with his brothers, some years ago helped form and fund the Crowley County Community Foundation, thereby "putting something back to the Ordway community which gave so much to my family and me." Active in politics in earlier years, he says his main claim to fame was managing the state Senate re-election campaign of a young Arvada lawyer, Tony Vollack. He also served in Ken Monfort’s campaign run for U.S. Senate in 1968 (which was unsuccessful).
In 1985, Holland & Hart was looking to establish its presence in Colorado Springs. Bruce was chosen to lead the project. With merger partner Spurgeon, Haney and Howbert, Holland & Hart, Colorado Springs, was born in 1986. Thus, after twenty-eight years in the Denver office of the firm, and in Arvada, the community the Buell family had called home since his law school days, there were new challenges.
It didn’t take Bruce long to get involved in his new community. He now serves as a board member of the Pikes Peak Community Foundation; as a trustee of the Edmondson Foundation; treasurer of the El Paso County Bar Association, and a member of the Colorado Springs Estate Planning Council, to list but a few of his interests.
A Spiritual Man
Spiritual growth and leadership are of great importance to Bruce. A great deal of his activity is through his church. He views his gifts and his mission in life as products of his relationship with God. A Presbyterian, Bruce states: "My hope and prayer is that where Christ leads, I will follow." He has been a Sunday School leader and choir member for many years. A major, current activity is his Prison Ministry—weekly visits to Cañon City, as well as working with ex-offenders after their release from prison.
He also has served as an officer of the Samaritan Counseling Center of the Pikes Peak Region and recently helped form Ecumenical Christian Legal Services, assisting the aging, needy, and other social ministries. Bruce tells of working with the senior high school youth of his church. A recent experience included spending a week in the Los Angeles inner city with the poor and homeless. "Don’t let anyone tell you that today’s youth are inferior to us when we were that age—I don’t buy it."
An Active DU Alumnus
Also an important interest for Buell has been helping "to make/keep the DU law school the best." He has served on the National Law Alumni Council (Chairman 1979-81) and was instrumental in establishing an endowment honoring Steve, Jerry, and Richard Hart when DU law school moved to its present site, where incidentally, he believes the school should remain.9 He also believes DU officials should re-examine the question: is the law school too big?
Bruce feels fortunate that he was able to become involved with the establishment of scholarships at DU by Holland & Hart and the Viola Vestal Coulter Foundation and to associate with the student recipients. Following this interview last fall, he was on his way to meet and visit with student scholarship recipients. Bruce is currently president of the Coulter Foundation, which named one of its DU scholarships in his honor.
Buell plans to continue the practice of law indefinitely. "I’m in good health and want to continue to serve people." In January 1996, he retired from Holland & Hart and opened his own law practice in Colorado Springs. His wife serves as his secretary. In January 2001, Steve Ezell joined him to form the firm of Buell & Ezell, LLP.
Considering the many attributes and accomplishments of the man Bruce Buell, one would expect no less than to hear him proclaim in great terms of endearment that his family is the pride and joy of his life: his wife, Joan; son Alan and his wife Carla and their sons Justin and Shannon; daughter Sue, and her two boys, Casey and Kelly; and Bonnie, "my horse soul mate," her husband Loren, and daughters Bryn and Dana.
Here is something inspirational, a la Bruce Buell: "With occasional music for the soul, tennis for the fun of it, and hikes in the hills and mountains around Pikes Peak country for the heart and mind, who could ask for anything more?"
1. Much of the information contained in this profile was gleaned from a paper, "Bruce Buell, In Retrospect," written by Bruce in 1995 at the request of officials at the University of Denver College of Law. His reflections served as background for the presentation to him of the school’s Professional Achievement Award that year. Some information was recorded and updated during an interview on October 17, 2000, and some stem from personal remembrances of our twenty-five-year friendship.
2. Robert B. Yegge, of Denver, graduated from Princeton in 1956. He returned to the Mile High City, earned a law degree from the University of Denver in 1958, and joined DU’s part-time law faculty that year. In 1965, at the age of 30, Yegge was appointed Dean of the law school, the youngest of American law school deans at the time. He resigned the Dean’s post effective July 1, 1977, but remains on the faculty as Dean Emeritus and Professor of Law.
3. William M. Beaney served on the Princeton faculty from 1949 to 1969. From 1964 to 1969, he held the William Nelson Cromwell Law Professorship there. He served as a Visiting Faculty member at the University of Denver College of Law in 1968-69. He was lured by his former student, DU Dean Robert Yegge, to accept a full-time faculty position at DU in 1970. Beaney served as Acting Dean of the law school in 1984-85. He retired in 1989 and was named Emeritus Professor of Law. Beaney currently resides in Denver.
4. He and Joan met in 1949 at Princeton High School when she was a senior.
5. Bruce retired from the Naval Reserve in 1976 as a Captain.
6. 851 P.2d 192 (Colo.App. 1992).
7. Houston v. Symington Wayne Corp., 369 P.2d 424 (Colo. 1962).
8. "COLTAF Update: Banks Waive Service Fees," 29 The Colorado Lawyer 25 (Sept. 2000).
9. University of Denver officials have announced that the DU College of Law will move to the University’s main campus by July 31, 2003.
Philip Gauthier, now retired, was Director of Alumni and Public Relations for the University of Denver College of Law from 1973 to 1992.
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