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TCL > August 2013 Issue > Love of the Law

The Colorado Lawyer
August 2013
Vol. 42, No. 8 [Page  5]

© 2013 The Colorado Lawyer and Colorado Bar Association. All Rights Reserved.

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In and Around the Bar
CBA President's Message to Members

Love of the Law
by W. Terry Ruckriegle

 

 
   

I am blessed, truly blessed. I am proud to be first an attorney, then a judge. Now, I am honored to serve as President of the Colorado Bar Association. It’s no easy matter following Mark Fogg—who calls being CBA President (and means it) the best experience of his career. It is somewhat formidable, in fact, to be stepping onto the same path that he trod with such ease.

This account is part and parcel of the development of my love of the law. I hope it will conjure your own personal recollections of how and why you became a member of this most honorable profession. Just as being a spouse or a partner, or being a parent or a best friend, has its challenges, being a lawyer or a judge is not always easy. It is all about relationships in progress.

My Brief Reminiscence

In the seventh grade, on a weekly basis, my exchange teacher from Tasmania had us present snippets on current affairs. That, along with my Gettysburg battlefield diorama project, almost kept me out of trouble! Okay, I’ll be honest, I talked too much in class. Then, when I was in the eighth grade, I learned that I liked the law. I became fascinated by it through my interest in history and the political figures around me. Of course, I didn’t really know what it was about—but do we ever? Later, at 13, I got to be mayor for a day, and that (along with my neighbor, who was on the county commission) really launched me on an adventure in learning about local politics. At that age, I usually read the local and state political stories first, then the world affairs. That was 1960, when the election of John F. Kennedy gave hope to the young, and those who felt disenfranchised changed politics.

From the Press to Political Science to Business
to Insurance to Law—A Winding Path

On November 22, 1963, everything seemed to come crashing down. The President of the United States was assassinated. At the time, I was involved in "freedom of the press" for both the school newspaper and yearbook. We soon experienced race riots and turmoil at home while getting entangled overseas. College brought greater exposure to divergent views and pressure to be "on one side or the other."

It all seemed confusing, so I switched from political science to business; I wanted to be able to get a job if my law school dream didn’t work out. But business law concepts and accounting principles were hard to get through my thick skull, so I switched majors again—this time to insurance. After all, everybody needs insurance, right? My 1968 summer job as an agent gave me a heavy dose of contract law. People would ask, "What does this mean?"—referring to the complicated language pervading insurance policies.

Then, there was TV coverage of the Democratic National Convention (and the tale of two Hoffmans) that laid a platform for many questions and discussions about which was the correct way to approach politics and develop political solutions. No matter how you viewed it, something had gone terribly wrong. I chose to follow the "you can do more from the inside" philosophy, and continued on to law school.

Oh, Law—What Art Thou?

When I decided to pursue law, I viewed it as a way of narrowing my dilemma for career choices because, after all, law wasn’t as broad as business. Oh, so naïve. The first year of law school was dynamically different from my undergrad studies. Although we traditionally are led to believe that the study of law is based on logic, that’s not quite the case. Many of us got brain cramps trying to learn how to analyze issues and problems through reading and memorizing case law—only to learn that wasn’t the point. Principles and precedent are what law students need to comprehend.

Our law professors became our first mentors—wittingly or otherwise. Some were postured politically on the right or on the left; others were Libertarian. Political persuasion didn’t matter as much as their passion and ability to inspire students to thirst for the foundational principles of law. These principles are what breathe life into arguments about the application and interpretation of the cases that law students study. I learned to love rules of evidence and rules of procedure. They took me back to the days of local government and understanding how things get accomplished through process. I had arrived precisely where I was meant to be—wanting to learn more and more about how to make law work.

What actually provided my personal breakthrough was an up-close-and-personal experience with law books. It didn’t come through pouring over treatises and texts for hours and hours in preparation for finals. It came from having a summer job working in the law library, which that year entailed packing and moving books to the new law school. I was responsible for their safe transfer, knew my fellow students depended on them getting placed properly, and became "connected" to research. Later, as an attorney in practice and in the District Attorney’s Office, I always handled my own research and appeals. That way, there was nobody to blame but yours truly.

Side-Tracked in the Middle East

Toward the end of my second year, I faced a curveball that ultimately impacted my view of and desire to commit to the law. An opportunity arose to teach at an English-speaking university in Iran. I was a little worn out with year-round law school, but worried I might not end the sabbatical and make the return. The once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, though, won out over the practicality of law school.

So, Pahlavi (namesake of Shah Reza) University became my institution of learning for the next school year. Economics and political science (with certain limitations) were the areas of study.

I learned Farsi, shared a house with a doctoral candidate in cultural anthropology from the University of Chicago, and read the only English publication I could get my hands on—Time Magazine—once a week (usually a week late). My housemate’s prediction of a looming revolution didn’t come about for another five years. The Persian people were charming and the culture and history were overwhelming. Timing was impeccable, because it was the 2500th anniversary of the Persian Empire, and the celebration was taking place only twenty kilometers from our house. Most important, my experience in Iran instilled in me the commitment to return to law school. I returned to the States ready to rededicate myself to my passion.

That summer, I ventured out to Colorado for the first time, and determined I likely would return to live. Back at school in Indiana, my practical side led me to take every tax and estate planning course offered. They were acknowledged to be the toughest courses taught by one of the strongest professors. I knew, though, that the skills I acquired would make me competitive in the marketplace.

My first job as a staff attorney was at the Indiana Civil Rights Commission. This job was the start of my long trek down the public service trail.

The Colorado Connection

In May 1974, I loaded up a U-Haul and towed my VW convertible to Denver. Along came a whole new group of judges, lawyers, mentors, and professional relationships. Soon I was up in the mountains learning the importance of small town law. How quickly I realized, though, that dreams and reality don’t automatically converge, and that all is not roses in the practice of law. The needs of people as clients, the impact of prosecutorial decisions on lives of victims and defendants, and the constitutional oath to do justice challenged that commitment to the law. Don’t get me wrong; I respect a good challenge—especially when the cause is worthy and the end is constructive.

In a nutshell, my years spent practicing law were meaningful and memorable. I have experienced an abundance of personal and professional growth along the way, and there are plenty of stories to tell. Suffice to say, for these purposes, that the faces and the places may have changed—some forgotten, some chiseled into my memory for eternity—but one thing is certain: my love for law has been enhanced every step of the way. It is forever bound with who I am.

And Now

It has been a well-trod road since the seventh grade. Along the way, I received indispensable guidance and unwavering support from teachers, professors, and mentors, along with family, friends, and colleagues. There have been divorces and plea bargains, civil and criminal trials, and media and bureaucracy that have tested my patience—and my sanity; but through it all, encouragement and support from others have always made the challenges seem surmountable.

Now, the road has veered in this new—and I dare say unexpected—direction. I am curious about the challenges I will face while on this different path. They do seem daunting, but once again, I trust the leadership and wisdom of those who have trod before me and beside me throughout my career. I look forward to becoming acquainted with and reconnecting to my fellow lovers of the law.

See you ’round the state!


Meet the CBA President

Throughout his term, CBA President Terry Ruckriegle is traveling the state
to visit local bar associations. His scheduled visits are listed below.

 Bar Association  Date   Time  Location
Southern Colorado  August 20  Lunch  Trinidad
San Luis Valley    August 20  6:00 p.m.  Monte Vista
Southwestern Colorado  August 21  Lunch  Durango
Four Corners  August 21  Dinner  Cortez
7th J.D. and Delta County  August 22  Dinner  TBD
Mesa County  August 23  Lunch  Grand Junction
El Paso County  September 17 11:45 a.m.  Colorado Springs
Heart of the Rockies  September 18  Lunch  Salida
Freemont/Custer Counties September 18   Dinner  Cañon City
16th J.D. and Southeast Colorado  September 19  6:00 p.m.  Lamar
Pueblo County  September 20  Lunch  Pueblo
Continental Divide  September 23  Dinner  Silverthorne
1st J.D.   October 8  Lunch  Golden
Douglas/Elbert Counties    October 8  Dinner  TBD
Adams/Broomfield Counties  October 9  Noon  Brighton
Aurora    October 9  6:00 p.m.  Aurora
Weld County  November 12  Lunch  Greeley
13th J.D.    November 12  Dinner  Fort Morgan
Boulder County  January 16  Noon  Boulder
Larimer County  March 7  Lunch  Ft. Collins
 For more information about president’s visits, contact Robin Van Atta at robin@cobar.org or (303) 824-5310.

© 2013 The Colorado Lawyer and Colorado Bar Association. All Rights Reserved. Material from The Colorado Lawyer provided via this World Wide Web server is protected by the copyright laws of the United States and may not be reproduced in any way or medium without permission. This material also is subject to the disclaimers at http://www.cobar.org/tcl/disclaimer.cfm?year=2013.


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