The Denver Bar Association would like to thank those who took the time to submit nominations for this year’s Awards. Over the past 125 years, the achievements of DBA members have never failed to impress. This year’s honorees have taken the meaning of dedication to particularly inspiring heights.
Award of Merit: William E. Walters III
The value of the Denver Bar Association and the meaning of the Award of Merit are closely intertwined for me. Since I began practicing law in 1974 at Sherman & Howard, my mentor, Garth Grisson, made it clear that involvement in the Denver legal community was essential to a young lawyer’s growth and development. The DBA provided ample opportunities in both cases. With the help of the DBA and the support of my spouse and family, I was able to work with the best and the brightest of our profession on committees, task forces, governance issues and pro bono activities. Law-related education for young people was always close to my heart. The DBA sponsored numerous activities, from Mock Trials to Career Days to classroom experiences, and I was fortunate to participate in all of these.
My introduction to pro bono legal services also started with the Denver Bar Association. I worked on cases referred by Metro Volunteer Laywers (MVL) and served as a chair and trustee of both MVL and the Legal Aid Foundation. One of the highlights of my career was opening the Denver Boys and Girls Clubs to young women — an MVL case.
Our association’s emphasis on education for attorneys motivated me to lecture for CLE and NITA and write articles for The Colorado Lawyer, as well as national publications. While there have been many highlights in my 40-year career, I believe it all began at the DBA.
As I reflect on the Award of Merit and what it means, my mind is flooded with many moments and memories — all centered and focused on the dedicated staff, volunteers, lawyers and non-lawyers who shared my belief in opening the mystery of law to all persons, of all ages. For me, the DBA was a dynamic force in my professional career, as it set high standards for professionalism, ethics and quality networking. Finally, I am especially honored to be added to the list of prior recipients which includes my first mentor, Garth Grissom.
I am truly honored to receive the DBA Young Lawyer of the Year Award. I got involved with the bar association right out of law school through encouragement from my mentor, Troy Rackham. I immediately found a network of welcoming and engaging peers, so I applied for a position on the DBA YLD Executive Council. Through the DBA (and, more specifically, the DBA YLD), I found valuable ways to engage in pro bono work, opportunities to socialize with peers and potential clients, and a community of supportive friends and mentors. I’ve had the opportunity to work with people across the bar on various projects. I am particularly excited about the work I have done with the YLD and the DBA strategic planning group to foster diversity and inclusiveness and to bolster our substantive programming for new attorneys.
I recognize the incredible impact that each of the prior winners has had within the DBA and in our broader community, and I can only hope to follow in their impressive footsteps.
Belonging to the DBA has given me the opportunity to be a better lawyer. I have learned from colleagues who have knowledge and expertise in different areas of the law than I do, and I have gotten to know judges in contexts other than sitting behind the bench in a black robe. It has definitely broadened my outlook and helped me to see things from others’ perspectives.
I feel honored to be selected for this award, and I thank my colleagues for acknowledging my volunteer work. As you know, we are all in this together, and you are deserving of equal praise.
Volunteering is often thought of as a sacrifice, but I’ve found it to be just the opposite. Working on cases through Metro Volunteer Lawyers, coaching mock trial teams, teaching a class in local schools on Constitution Day and other similar activities have invigorated me and reminded me of the ideals that inspired me to become a lawyer in the first place. We are in an honorable profession: We help people, and we provide valuable services to the community. I am proud to be a member of such a profession and consider myself fortunate to know and work with such fine people.
I am privileged to serve the public as a judge and am humbled by my receipt of the Judicial Excellence Award.
I have had the opportunity to attend judicial programs throughout the country and meet judges from other states. Most judges are elected and are often involved in contested elections. The state of Colorado has a model system for the selection and retention of judges. It ensures that Colorado judges are qualified, impartial and independent. The Denver Bar Association has been instrumental in preserving and defending the Colorado merit selection system.
I was raised in the Chicago area. I loved 19th-century Russian literature and, for a period of time, contemplated a career as a Russian professor. During my senior year at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, I realized that I needed a more public service oriented career and decided to attend law school. I wanted to work with children and juveniles who were involved in the legal system.
I took a year off before attending law school and helped one of my college roommates move to Denver. (I had never been further west than the Mississippi.) I fell in love with Denver and the state of Colorado and decided to attend law school at the University of Denver.
I was appointed to the Denver District Court in 1998 by Governor Roy Romer and have since had the privilege to mentor the new judges who join our bench. I have also had several great mentors in my life: John Baker, for whom I served as a law clerk during law school, and Ben Aisenberg, with whom I shared an office for several years after being appointed as a judge. Both of them were active in the DBA and emphasized its importance to our judicial system and to the public. My membership in the DBA has been an integral part of my professional development throughout my career.
Outstanding Programs and Projects: MVL’s Power of Attorney Clinic
Founded in 2014 by MVL Rovira Scholar Joey Scott
All of the volunteer attorneys are incredibly grateful that the Power of Attorney Clinic is being recognized as the DBA’s Outstanding Program of the Year. At the clinic, volunteer attorneys assist low-income seniors with completing advance planning documents. As volunteer Tamra Waltemath explains, “clients do not want to fact the face the fact that they may become incapacitated or disabled, so they put off thinking about or preparing these documents. Going to court to obtain guardianships and conservatorships when people do not have powers of attorney is much more expensive, and it is a burden on the courts.”
By completing these documents for free at the clinic, low-income clients no longer face these worries. “Preparing these documents at no cost was a meaningful outreach experience for me and hopefully for the clients I served” is the overarching consensus.
For 50 years, MVL has provided Colorado lawyers with unique opportunities to channel our legal skills to help the poor. By volunteering for pro bono assignments, we MVL lawyers are not only helping folks who really need legal representation, we are also rewarding ourselves with the satisfaction of doing good works.
I am honored and proud to be among those young lawyers, who, in the 1960s, conceived of and implemented the Thursday Night Bar. Others who were part of this effort but who have left us include great lawyers like Pete Holme, Don Giacomini, Howard Holmes, Garth Grisson, Bill DeMoulin, Steve Kinney and Steve Sussman. They are to be honored greatly for their contributions!
I hope that in the next 50 years, MVL will continue to be a beacon of light for poor clients who struggle to make it in an ever more complex world, as well as a source of professional satisfaction for a new generation of volunteer lawyers who will also consider our license to practice law as an opportunity to help the poor and the helpless.
The year was 1966. I was one of several underpaid and overworked Legal Aid lawyers, and I had been representing poor people in civil cases for 10 years. It was a real privilege for me to be invited to be one of the original players in this unique and exciting DBA experiment and to awaken and marshal the large, dormant reservoir of talented lawyers in the DBA which, for the first time, used its talents to represent poor people in civil cases.
I am proud to have been an original participant in MVL, the oldest continuously operating lawyer volunteer program in the nation. I add my congratulations to the DBA and to the hundreds of dedicated volunteer lawyers who were and who are the successors to the ideals of such a vision. Thank you!
I feel truly honored, and surprised, that I am receiving this award. I have long believed we all have the obligation to give back to society when we have the opportunity.
Volunteering with MVL has been a fulfilling part of my life. I have had the pleasure of assisting people who are going through difficult times and who could not otherwise obtain legal assistance. Additionally, I have been able to meet with some of the finest attorneys in the Denver area who also believe that they have the obligation to give back to their community.
I believe that volunteering with MVL has helped me become a better attorney by helping me understand people from different backgrounds and appreciate their struggles.
As a relatively new attorney, I inherited a Thursday Night Bar client from an attorney who was leaving my firm. The client was delightful and very grateful when we got a good outcome in her divorce case. I was hooked. After that, I tried to take any case that Patricia Trujillo sent my way. Then I decided to get involved in the Denver Bar Association. I thought the Legal Services Committee would be a good fit. Indeed it was, as I found my calling through that involvement as executive director of the Thursday Night Bar Program. (The name was changed to Metro Volunteer Lawyers on my watch.) I got to work with many interesting cases and clients, with wonderful judges, magistrates and court staff, and with the very best attorneys in the metro area. Since I retired, I’ve continued to support the Barristers Benefit Ball and volunteer in MVL’s Family Law Court. When you do pro bono work, it’s good for the less fortunate and able in our community; it’s good for the legal system; and it’s good for your soul.
MVL, as successor to the Thursday Night Bar, has provided valuable services in connecting volunteer attorneys with low-income people in need of legal services. I hope that will continue long into the future.
Ages ago, when I was on the Board of Denver Legal Aid, a survey found that the legal services poor people wanted most were assistance with divorces and wills. Jon Asher and his hard-working crew were so busy trying to keep people from being evicted, or having their heat and electricity turned off, that they had virtually no time for writing wills.
So, in 1985, with the assistance of John Asher and Howard Rosenberg, I created the Wills Lab at DU’s law school. At first, Legal Aid sent us clients directly. Later, MVL assisted with that function. After some basic training, up to 20 law students are matched with a volunteer supervising attorney per semester. Among the saints who have repeatedly supervised in the Wills Lab are, in no particular order: Leia Ursery, Suzy Harris, Byron Hammond, Jean Klene, Cody Christian, Craig Joyce, Peggy Toal, Ron Servis, Connie Smith, Tom Hill, Beth Bryant, Fred Skillern, Gladys Sexton, Aldo Notarianni, Mark Masters, Debra Piazza, Greg Notarianni, David Kirch and Willis Carpenter.
Thank you for this honor. To all of the supervising attorneys who have been such great role models and mentors for the law students, and who have provided such valuable service to low-income people, thank you!
My interest in providing legal services to the poor started in law school right after the Kennedy assassination; his words about serving your country hit home. It was Howard Rosenberg who first suggested to me how the Denver Bar Association could make a contribution. And then the emphasis on the meaning of the Oath at the swearing-in ceremony gave a philosophical foundation to that concept.
So, the award means a great deal to me as a recognition for a long-held commitment. It is all about a social philosophy necessary for a just society. As most lawyers know, legal work is very much business-oriented. So, if it weren’t for volunteer and staff-supported programs dedicated to serving the poor, this element of our society would go unserved.
My tenure as a bankruptcy trustee taught me just how much the deck is stacked in favor of wealth. I encourage every lawyer to understand how meaningful it is to a poor person, and how important it is to the social order, to have fair and zealous representation when the odds are against you.
Our bar associations and law schools are to be commended for recognizing the concept and encouraging participation in providing legal services to the poor.
It doesn’t seem that it has been 45 years since I first attended a Thursday Night Bar session as a student. Not long afterward, I regularly participated in the Student Law Office program and was hooked. I realized that this was never going to be a lucrative career, but it has proven to be rewarding in many ways. Donating time to assist people who desperately needed help and had nowhere else to turn is no substitute for a large paycheck every month, but it can be particularly satisfying. I would certainly encourage anyone who has an interest in this kind of work to get involved. It gives a sense of contributing to the solution and not to the problem.