Official Magazine of the Denver Bar Association

SEAT AT THE BAR ~ DBA Bench-Bar Committee Launches Courtroom Chats Series ~ By Doug Stevens and Jerry Pratt

As co-chairs of the Bench-Bar Committee for nearly 10 years, we have come to learn one thing above all else: Denver attorneys value the opportunity to interact with judges in an informal setting. Such discussions provide a unique chance for attorneys to get to know judges on a more personal level, which is different from the traditional courtroom encounter where the judge sits above the attorneys in full robe attire. It also provides the opportunity to obtain valuable tips for practicing in that judge’s courtroom. In our experience, judges also appreciate the occasion to learn how they could better accommodate the attorneys and parties appearing in their courtroom. For newer judges perhaps embarking on a docket for the first time, such discussions provide a rare chance to interact with highly experienced practitioners who could lend insight into the nuances of that area of the law.

Traditionally, our committee has hosted quarterly events ranging from a couple of hours to half-day “retreats” on a Saturday morning — all with the focus of building collegiality and improving the relationship between Denver-area judges and lawyers.

With the committee’s Courtroom Chats, we have tried to build upon this goal by launching a monthly discussion series in which judges from all of Denver’s state courts host an hour-long session with a small group of attorneys to discuss various topics involving the practice of law in their courtroom.

So far, the series has been remarkably successful. The first presentation was hosted by Denver County Court Judges Beth Faragher and Olympia Fay and was titled, “What to Expect During a Denver County Court Criminal Case.” They spoke about the nuts and bolts of litigating criminal cases in the Denver County Court. The event was highly interactive and served as a great benchmark for the series moving forward.

The second installment of the series was, “Civil Litigation Practice in the Denver District Court.” District Judge Elizabeth Starrs, who previously served as a longtime civil litigator, spoke before a packed audience about various topics, including handling discovery disputes, dealing with pro se parties and general case management issues.

The third “Chat” was hosted by Denver County Court Judges Adam Espinosa and Clarisse Gonzales and had a heavy ethics focus. At the time of this presentation, both judges were assigned to the General Sessions Division and were handling Denver Municipal Code violations. The discussion covered the practice of law in the Denver County Court, as well as in the General Sessions Division. Judge Espinosa, who is a former senior trial attorney for the Colorado Supreme Court Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel, also discussed the Rules of Professional Conduct in an interactive question-and-answer format and covered ethical considerations in the practice of criminal law in his court.

Demonstrating the breadth and diversity of topics selected for the “Chats,” District Judge Karen Brody spoke in April about successfully litigating domestic matters in the Denver District Court. Judge Brody has a background in commercial litigation. The event featured lively discussions between Judge Brody and experienced domestic practitioners about the day-to-day practice of domestic law in the Denver District Court. Judge Brody also talked about the challenges of becoming as fluent as possible in this area of the law, notwithstanding her background in commercial litigation. One of the presentation’s takeaways was that in the Denver courts, judges are often as reliant on the attorneys as the attorneys are on them to honestly and effectively discuss the law.

The latest “Chat” was led by two experienced Colorado Court of Appeals judges: the Honorable John Webb and the Honorable Terry Fox. The “Chat” was titled, “Maximizing Success on Appeal: Effective Briefs and Oral Arguments.” Approximately 15 attorneys attended the event held in the Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center’s Supreme Court Conference Room. In keeping with the goal of these sessions, the event featured interactive and informal discussions about these critical areas of successful appellate practice in the Court of Appeals. Further enhancing the presentation was the presence of a third Court of Appeals judge, the Honorable Rebecca Freyre, who also contributed her own perspective.

The Bench-Bar Committee is already putting together an exciting lineup for the remainder of the year following a brief summer hiatus. Colorado Supreme Court Justice Richard Gabriel is tentatively scheduled to lead the September 14 discussion in the Supreme Court Conference Room at the Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center. He will discuss effective practices in Colorado’s highest court, including the petition for certiorari process, effective brief writing and professionalism. Be sure to look for additional information about this program as the date approaches.

The committee is working to identify one or more Denver District Court judges to lead a presentation in October about the challenges to attorneys and judges associated with the District Court’s transitioning of judges from one docket to another (i.e., civil to criminal to domestic). Look for more details on this front as well.

Other presentations in the works for the coming months include a discussion about the practice of law in the Denver Juvenile Court, a chat covering practice in the Denver Probate Court and another event about the practice of law in the Denver County Court. We anticipate that these events will occur from 7:45 to 8:45 a.m. on the second Thursday of the month in Courtroom 4B of the Lindsey-Flanigan Courthouse. However, be sure to read the D-Brief for the latest information.

In addition to the great educational and networking opportunities associated with these “Chats,” they are also one of the best buys available to Denver-area attorneys. For only $10, CBA and DBA members receive breakfast, coffee and a CLE credit. Stay tuned for more information about these upcoming events so that you can RSVP as soon as possible. To ensure the event maintains the small discussion format that it is intended to provide, attendance is usually capped at the first 25 people to respond, and registration has closed for a couple of the chats already.

Thank you for your continued support of the Bench-Bar Committee as we continue to work hard to build upon the strong relationships that already exist between Denver’s attorneys and judges. D

If you have any questions or suggestions for future Courtroom Chats or other events, please feel free to contact the Bench-Bar Committee’s co-chairs, Doug Stevens of Caplan and Earnest LLC, at dstevens@celaw.com and Jerry Pratt of the Law Office of Gerald D. Pratt at gdpratt@gdprattlaw.com.

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