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TCL > May 2014 Issue > Guest Author—The Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center—Celebrating its Anniversary

May 2014       Vol. 43, No. 5       Page  5
In and Around the Bar
CBA President's Message to Members

Guest Author—The Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center—Celebrating its Anniversary
by Mary J. Mullarkey

  About the Author

Mary J. Mullarkey served as a Justice on the Colorado Supreme Court from 1987 until her retirement in 2010. She was the Chief Justice from 1998 to 2010, the first woman to hold that position, and the longest serving Colorado Chief Justice.


Hello Readers. Having worked with many excellent attorneys, judges, and law-related professionals throughout my career, I decided to periodically deviate from the traditional monthly President’s Message. I have invited a few of those colleagues to share some of their experiences and views concerning the legal profession and about topics of import and meaning to them and me.

As the state marks the first anniversary of the Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center, former Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Mary Mullarkey recounts the history of its creation and dedication. She discusses the Judicial Center’s amenities, as well as what meaning it holds for Colorado’s legal profession and the civic communities.

—W. Terry Ruckriegle

Law Day 2014 marks the first anniversary of the dedication of the new Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center, which is adjacent to the State Capitol Building in downtown Denver. If you have not visited the Judicial Center yet, I encourage you to celebrate Law Day by touring this extraordinary addition to the civic life of Colorado.

An Inspiring Complex Complementing Its Surroundings

The Judicial Center complex includes three structures. The four-story courthouse at 2 East 14th Avenue in Denver is the new home of the Colorado Supreme Court and the Colorado Court of Appeals. Next door is a twelve-story office building that houses the administrative offices of the Colorado Judicial Branch and other state law-related entities, such as the Attorney General’s Office. The final structure is a parking garage located one-half block to the south.

The courthouse is designed and built to last a century and is intended to be a fitting companion to the State Capitol Building. Clad in gray granite, the courthouse picks up the color and some of the design features of the Capitol Building. The sweeping arc of the courthouse façade reaches out to the Capitol, home of the Governor and the Colorado General Assembly, symbolizing the connections between and the separation of the three branches of government.

Visitors to the courthouse pass under a portico engraved with an excerpt from the Pledge of Allegiance—"Liberty and Justice for All"—and are greeted by another quotation engraved on the wall inside. This quotation, taken from the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., states that "Injustice Anywhere Is A Threat To Justice Everywhere."

Stunning Vistas

The entryway leads to a soaring four-story glass atrium with marble flooring that depicts a large stylized black, gray, and tan columbine—the state flower. Both the dome and the walls of the top two floors of the atrium are made of glass, letting in abundant natural light and offering stunning views of the newly renovated gold dome of the Capitol Building.

The Supreme Court’s courtroom on the top floor of the building is circular, with a domed ceiling ringed with windows. The wall behind the Court’s bench is divided into seven sections—corresponding to the number of justices on the Court—with elegant marble columns and red drapes behind the justices’ chairs. The well of the court has a surprisingly intimate feel. The shape and height of the bench, as well as the location of the podium, were carefully calculated to facilitate easy communication between the justices and the lawyers presenting their cases.

There are two courtrooms for the court of appeals. One courtroom has a large seating capacity and is on the first floor of the building. A second, smaller courtroom, nicknamed the "library courtroom" because its walls are lined with books, is located on the third floor. The building also contains space for a third court of appeals courtroom, which could be constructed if and when needed. All of the courtrooms have the latest audiovisual equipment and are finished in dark woodwork and carpets with a columbine motif.

Approximately $1.9 million in art was commissioned for the building. The law library on the first floor displays some of the most beautiful artwork in the building. A series of stained-glass windows shows law throughout the ages. On the ends of the book stacks hang large sepia-toned portraits of individuals representing the diversity of Coloradans. Excerpts from the Colorado Constitution are screened over their faces.

The One-of-a-Kind Learning Center

A unique feature of the new Judicial Center, also located on the first floor, is the Learning Center, where students and adults can learn about the rule of law in our democracy and the functions of the courts.1 Interactive displays encourage visitors to test their knowledge of legal principles, play the role of judges by deciding cases, or hear judges describe their work. Other exhibits explain the life and work of Governor Ralph L. Carr, for whom the Judicial Center is named. A life-size bronze statue of Governor Carr sits comfortably on a bench nearby, inviting visitors to be photographed with him.2

History in the Making

The 2013 dedication of the Judicial Center marked the completion of an effort I began when I became Chief Justice in 1998. I was faced with a badly overcrowded, rapidly deteriorating appellate court building that suffered severe, chronic water damage. We needed a safe, efficient workplace with room for expansion. Our neighbor on the block was the Colorado History Museum, whose building had similar problems.

The decision to replace the two buildings occurred after years of study and negotiation. Key to that decision was the analysis and recommendation made by the Urban Land Institute (an independent nonprofit land use organization) to build a new judicial center on the site of the existing appellate court building and to relocate the history museum to a site within the nearby Golden Triangle area of Denver.

In 2008, the Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center and the History Colorado building were authorized by the Colorado General Assembly in legislation signed by Governor Bill Ritter. Prime sponsors of the bipartisan legislation were Senate President Brandon Shaffer, Speaker of the House Terrance Carroll, Senator Josh Penry, and Representative Don Marostica.

The combined cost of the two projects was approximately $350 million. When the economic recession hit, the Judicial Center was "shovel ready" and qualified for federal stimulus money. Over the lifetime of the certificates of participation, the federal government will pay one-third of the interest. It is estimated that construction of the Judicial Center created more than 2,000 direct jobs.

The Judicial Center’s architect was Fentress Architects, designer of many other Denver landmarks, including the DIA terminal, the Colorado Convention Center, and Mile High Stadium. Bill Mosher of Trammell-Crow was the project manager, and Mortenson Construction was the builder.

Demolition of the old building occurred in the summer of 2010. The new Judicial Center, which earned a LEED gold certification for energy efficiency, was finished in early 2013.

A Momentous Dedication

Headlining the dedication ceremony in May 2013 was Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, who has a special interest in educating young people. At her request, she began her visit by meeting with students in the courthouse atrium. The 100 eighth- and ninth-graders in attendance represented every legislative district in the state.

Justice Sotomayor came to Denver on a wave of favorable publicity following the publication of her memoir, My Beloved World.3 To the laughter of the students, Chief Justice Michael L. Bender introduced her as a "rock star." Her rapport with the students was immediately apparent as she plunged into the crowd, answering questions.

An honors graduate of both Princeton University and Yale Law School, Justice Sotomayor described obstacles she had overcome in her early years, including poverty, childhood diabetes, an alcoholic father who died when she was a young child, and her inability to write well in English. She encouraged the students to fulfill their dreams, but reminded them that they could have dreams of a better life only if they are aware of the possibilities life has to offer. Justice Sotomayor found inspiration from diverse sources: television’s Perry Mason series allowed her to imagine being a lawyer; a high school friend urged her to apply to Ivy League colleges that she did not know existed; and, above all, books opened the world to her.

Later in the day, Justice Sotomayor joined the Chief Justice and Governor John Hickenlooper at the formal dedication of the Judicial Center. The three speakers touched on similar themes about the courthouse embodying our nation’s commitment to the rule of law. They also paid tribute to the Judicial Center’s namesake, Governor Carr, for his courage in supporting the rights of Japanese Americans during World War II.

Justice Sotomayor noted the soft murmurs of awe she heard from visitors seeing the Judicial Center for the first time. Like all great buildings, she said, this one has a soul—a soul that is inviting and welcoming. It is evident to all who enter that this is a place where people are treated fairly, and where they can earn respect. There is a sense of gravity, endurance, and permanency. In these few words, Justice Sotomayor painted a beautiful, hopeful picture of justice in Colorado.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor met with eighth- and ninth-grade students who attended the Judicial Center’s dedication ceremony in May 2013.


The pathway to creation of the new Judicial Center took many twists and turns over a ten-year period. I salute all of those whose hard work made it possible, especially State Court Administrator Jerry Marroney and my colleague and successor as Chief Justice, Mike Bender.


1. See Rice, "Lawyers as Leaders—A Call for Civic Outreach and Engagement," 43 The Colorado Lawyer 81 (May 2014) (additional discussion of the Learning Center).

2. See Hobbs, "Making Justice Accessible in a New and Compelling Venue," 42 The Colorado Lawyer 5 (Sept. 2013), (additional discussion about the Judicial Center).

3. Sotomayor, My Beloved World (Knopf, 2013).

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