The Colorado Lawyer
Vol. 42, No. 7 [Page 45]
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Six of the Greatest
Laurence A. Ardell (1919–94)
by Wm. David Lytle
About the Author
Wm. David Lytle has been with the law firm of Altman, Keilbach, Ltyle, Parlapiano & Ware, P.C. for thirty-nine years. He was a law clerk for Larry Ardell during the summer and fall of 1973. Lytle was CBA President during 2007–08—firstname.lastname@example.org. Lytle thanks Larry’s wife, Marty, for taking the time to share stories and provide insights about Larry for this article.
I first met Larry Ardell in the summer of 1973. My wife and I had just moved from St. Louis to Pueblo, and I was preparing for the Colorado bar exam. One of the few people I knew who lived in Pueblo was local attorney Jim Phelps, whom I had met on a trip to Pueblo a few months before the move. A couple of days after the bar exam, Jim gave me a call and told me that Larry Ardell, to whom Jim had introduced me at a monthly Pueblo County Bar Association meeting, was looking for someone to do some work for him as a clerk. I reminded Jim that a law school classmate and I were planning to start our own practice once we were sworn in as members of the bar. (It’s good to be young and not overly concerned about actually passing the bar exam.)
Jim assured me that Larry was just looking for someone to help him for a few months, so I went into Larry’s office for a meeting. Larry couldn’t have been nicer to a young, aspiring attorney. Larry explained the kind of help he needed for some cases, and it all sounded fine to me. Besides, my wife, who was working as a registered nurse in the surgical operating rooms at Pueblo’s Parkview Hospital, thought my working (as opposed to fishing and playing golf for the next three months) would be a very good idea.
I told Larry that my wife and I were living about twenty-five minutes outside the city, and that we would be commuting into town together. My wife started work around 6:30 a.m., and I asked Larry if it would be okay if I came in early and then left around 3:30 p.m. That was fine with Larry. I asked him how I would get into the office at that early hour. Larry responded that "the office building is open; just come in the door." "How do I get in your office?" I asked. "That won’t be a problem," Larry said. "I’ll be here." And he always was.
I learned quickly that no one worked harder than Larry Ardell. I would arrive at the office between 6:30 and 6:45 every morning to find Larry already hard at work. I asked him one day what time he usually came to work, "Oh, it varies," he said, "sometimes 4:30, sometimes 5:00." Another time I asked him, "What do you do for breakfast, given your early arrival?" Larry’s response, "Well, if I’m hungry, the Village Inn [which was two blocks from the office] opens at 6:00, and I just walk over." I learned he was something of a regular at opening time.
Larry’s given name was Laurence A. Ardell, but everyone who knew him called him Larry. The first time I met him, I called him Mr. Ardell, and he quickly explained that around the office or in the halls of the office building, "Larry" would do just fine.
Larry was born in May 1919 and grew up in Pueblo. His father and grandfather both had worked for the railroad. His grandfather was killed in a work-related accident, and his father was seriously injured at work.
Larry graduated from Pueblo’s Central High School and earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Colorado (CU) in Boulder. At the onset of World War II, Larry joined the Army and eventually saw duty in the European theater in an anti-tank unit. After the war was over, he was discharged with the rank of captain.
Larry returned to CU to earn his law degree. It was at this time that Larry met his future wife, Mary C. Ardell, who is better known as Marty. Marty told me that Larry was looking for a date to the CU Law Ball, and he asked her to go with him. Marty, who attended CU but was not a law student, had never heard of the Law Ball. She was familiar, however, with a regular event held in Boulder in the late 1940s known as the Tea Dance. Marty told Larry, "No, I won’t go with you to the Law Ball, but I will go with you to the Tea Dance." Larry quickly accepted Marty’s counteroffer, and the couple’s relationship blossomed from there.
In addition to a law degree from CU, Larry earned an MBA degree from the University of Denver and a Masters of Tax Law from New York University. From New York, Larry and Marty moved to Delaware, where Larry worked in the tax department of the DuPont Company. Ultimately, though, tax law wasn’t to be Larry’s forte.
Setting Up Shop in Colorado
Larry and Marty moved back to Pueblo in 1950. Larry opened his own practice in downtown Pueblo’s Bon Durant Building, which housed a large number of law offices at the time. Initially, Marty did not work in Larry’s office, but she eventually became the firm’s receptionist, secretary, legal assistant, and office manager. By the time I met Larry in 1973, there were two other very hardworking secretaries on staff; however, Marty served as the coordinator of all things staff-related until Larry retired from the practice of law.
The Bon Durant Building was purchased by Mountain Bell Telephone in the early 1970s. Consequently, all of the attorneys in the building had to move at the end of their leases. The Ardells—who were the last ones to vacate—moved out of the building in 1973. They didn’t go far, relocating to the Thatcher Building just across the street. The Thatcher Building then became the new building to house most of the attorneys in Pueblo. Larry’s office was located on the third floor, and it remained there until his retirement in 1990.
An Impressive Caseload
When I briefly worked for Larry, he was mostly doing insurance defense work—a lot of insurance defense work. Larry represented State Farm Insurance, Farmer’s Insurance, and Ohio Casualty, and he did so all over Southeastern and Southern Colorado. It took this young, almost-admitted-to-the-bar attorney a little time to realize what a huge practice that was.
In 1973, the Tenth Judicial District (Pueblo County) had Term Day every four months. On Term Day, the district court judge for each division of the district court would call up all of the civil cases pending that had not yet been set for trial in that division. If you had a case or cases in that division, you were expected to appear, or have someone from your office appear, calendar in hand, to determine whether the case was ready to be set for trial and pre-trial conference. I don’t recall the exact circumstances, but I do recall at one point being asked to go to Term Day with Larry’s calendar.
Marty and Larry had Larry’s notes of which cases were ready to be set and which were not. I can recall noticing on the docket sheet for the first division in which I appeared that several of Larry’s cases were on the docket. I had already let the judge’s clerk know I was there with Mr. Ardell’s calendar—we were now in court, so he was now Mr. Ardell—just as Marty had instructed me to do. One of Larry’s cases was among the first to be called. I had noticed that as the previous matters had been called, the judge would offer dates the court had available to the attorneys until everyone found an open date or until the judge set the matter as an alternate setting on the judge’s calendar.
When Larry’s first case was called, the judge acknowledged that I was appearing with Mr. Ardell’s calendar, and then asked me whether he had any availability on a date that was many months down the road. I looked at his calendar and saw that he already had a trial scheduled. The judge then asked me when Larry’s earliest open date was to schedule a jury trial (even the judges knew him as "Larry"). I can’t remember exactly how far ahead I had to look, but it was well beyond a year. Naturally, the plaintiff’s attorney wanted an earlier date.
The judge then indicated he would schedule the matter for trial as an alternate on Larry’s calendar. If Larry’s primary case went to trial, this case would be continued by the court. I came to realize this reflected not only the volume of cases that Larry handled, but also the respect Larry had earned from the judges before whom he appeared. When Larry retired in 1990, his caseload was transferred to multiple attorneys from more than one firm.
Extending Courtesy and Respect
to Clients and Colleagues
It was Larry’s custom and practice to treat the lawyers on the other side of the case with respect and courtesy. Dave Ware related to me that when he was just out of the District Attorney’s Office in the late 1970s, he had a plaintiff’s personal injury case that Larry was defending. When the jury returned to deliver the verdict, Dave wasn’t able to be present. Larry went to court to receive the jury’s decision, and later called Dave to let him know that Dave’s client had prevailed. He told Dave the amount of the judgment and the accrued interest, and let him know that he would have his client get a check to Dave in short order. Larry then spent some time telling Dave what a good job he did in presenting his case. It is not often you hear stories of someone treating opposing counsel with that level of courtesy.
When Larry passed away in February 1994 at age 74, there were many accolades written about him. Richard Robb, retired Senior District Judge for the Tenth Judicial District, was interviewed by the Pueblo Chieftain, the local newspaper. Judge Robb had this to say about Larry:
[He was] one of the finest trial lawyers in the State of Colorado . . . a hard-nosed advocate. Tough. Thorough. But not intimidating. He probably represented a client better than any lawyer I had in my court. When he was in your courtroom, everyone in the courtroom and in the halls outside the courtroom knew he was there. He had a booming voice; not intimidating. He certainly was a formidable presence.1
Judge Robb recounted that he would call on Larry, as a personal injury expert, to prepare a brief analyzing proposed settlements when Judge Robb had probate cases involving children or an incompetent person. Judge Robb related that Larry would provide fourteen- or fifteen-page briefs fully analyzing the proposed settlement and discussing whether it was appropriate.2
Building a Business and Building a Home
Larry wasn’t just a highly skilled advocate—he also was a skilled carpenter. John Keilbach recalls seeing Larry and one or both of Larry’s sons in 1973 doing much of the carpentry and finish work on what was to be Larry’s new office space in the Thatcher Building in preparation for the move.
When the Ardells purchased their home in Pueblo many years ago, it was a nice home, but it wasn’t very large. Marty shared that, over the years, Larry remodeled and expanded the home five times. The home is lovely, and all the expansions fit together in such a way that it looks like the home was built that way from the start. Not content to simply remodel and expand their home in Pueblo, Larry also did most of the construction of their getaway home, located along the Blue River outside Breckenridge.
Improving their family home in Pueblo and building their home away from home in Breckenridge was just a small reflection of the devotion Larry had to his family—his wife Marty, and their children Greg, Jeff, and Lynda. Today, Greg lives in Massachusetts, Jeff lives in Tennessee, and Lynda lives in Alabama. Marty still lives in the family home in Pueblo. Larry had three young grandchildren at the time of his death. A fourth grandchild was born after Larry passed away. Larry was absolutely delighted to be a grandfather. It is unfortunate that he didn’t get more time with his grandkids.
The Ultimate Advocate
Larry set a wonderful example for other attorneys by always being prepared and being honorable and decent with everyone with whom he dealt. He is remembered as the ultimate advocate and the quintessential professional, and his name well deserves to be inscribed among the Outstanding Lawyers in Colorado History.
1. "Trial Lawyer Laurence Ardell dies at 74," Pueblo Chieftain (Feb. 24, 1994).
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