When the Ralph L. Carr Justice Center, which houses Colorado’s appellate courts and the Attorney General’s Office, opened for business last year, its exterior and interior design was met with general acclaim and, of course, the usual gaggle of grousers.
The faultfinders, egged on by some members of the local media who smelled a sensational story, leveled their guns at the elegance exemplified by the furnishings that found their way into the Supreme Court digs. Among their discoveries was a $7,200 tray table; some thousand-dollar-a-copy portable coat racks, and a couple dozen leather sofas, which cost north of $4,000 each. Where these items were obtained has not yet been revealed, but it’s a good bet they didn’t come from Jake Jabs.
By happy coincidence, the Colorado and Denver Bar Association offices were due for a makeover at about that same time. Taking their cue from the judiciary, bar planners decided that the functional-but-plain CBA/DBA facilities would benefit from a designer’s touch. They retained the services of Humbert Le Gaspilleur, the renowned French interior designer—receiving a cut-rate price for his services because he happened to be summering in Vail last year.
Le Gaspilleur came up with a breathtaking design, which some have called Hogwarts-on-the-Seine, reminiscent of an English gentlemen’s club with a glaze of Louis XIV. The design is even more remarkable when it is considered that it all had to fit within the skin of an ordinary, boxy 1960s office building.
When the renovations are complete, the first thing the visitor will notice upon exiting the 9th floor elevators will be the stunning reception area. Although located on a rectangular floor plate, the reception space consists of a large rotunda. No right-angle walls are evident, since the windows out of the reception area do not actually look onto the Denver skyline. Instead, specially made dioramas, with artificial lighting, will be installed outside each window. This gives the windows the appearance of looking to the outside, without disrupting the circular flow of the walls.
As the accompanying architect’s rendering shows, a small, illuminated dome tops the reception area, with reclaimed wood floors harvested from the Great Salt Lake. The dome evokes the Colorado and U.S. Capitol Buildings, from which our laws flow. The genius of this design is that the dome does not require breaking through the floor above, which would have added greatly to the expenses. Instead, the floor of the old reception area is being lowered into the mechanical plenum below. This allowed the installation of marble steps down from the elevator doors and a major rerouting of floor utility runs. The end result will be worth it. A bookcase (which will house a large-screen monitor), comfortable tufted couches and chairs, and a period desk for busy attorneys to use while checking their emails, etc., round out the reception furnishings.
Chuck Turner’s trusty Steelcase desk will be relegated to the thrift store when his new office is completed. With more than three decades under his belt as CBA/DBA Executive Director, Turner is the longest-tenured bar association director in the country.
As befits his status as the dean of bar executives, Turner’s office will be appointed in rare Indonesian mohogany.
Visible behind Turner’s desk, as seen in the architect’s rendering above, will be a gold-leaf illuminated original rubbing from the Kanons (laws) of Suleiman the Magnificent (also known as the Lawgiver), the tenth sultan of the Ottoman Empire.
The Executive Conference Room compares well to the rest of the decor, with a recessed beam ceiling and walls covered in Mongolian Amboyna burl. The architect’s rendering of the room reveals Claude Monet’s “Les Filles Matinée” hanging behind the conference table. Lest association members accuse bar management of extravagance, it should be noted that it is actually a copy of Monet’s famous painting, executed by his protégé, Maurice Contrefait, which Le Gaspilleur sold to the bar association from his personal art collection at a very attractive price.
Coming up with the cash to pay for these upgrades to the CBA/DBA offices required some creative thinking. The Colorado Supreme Court is paying for its quarters and furnishings by taxing seekers of justice. Filing fees have been increased by 43% in some cases, and it now costs $224 to file a district court action. Unfortunately, the CBA, as a voluntary association, cannot raise dues that dramatically for fear of losing members.
With the help of the Colorado Supreme Court, another funding solution was found. A new attorney qualification rule has been passed, which will require all lawyers who wish to practice in Colorado to be members of the Colorado Bar Association. This will increase membership by about 30%, and by increasing the dues of current and new members by $175 per year, the improvements should be paid for in 15 years. The new rule, which is effective April 1, 2014, has an expiration date of 2034, after which bar membership will revert to again being voluntary. The 20-year term of the rule is longer than the 15-year payback period, just in case there are construction cost overruns.
Turner believes the rule will be useful in encouraging new members, especially younger lawyers who are not expected to use the actual facilities as much as more seasoned lawyers, to enjoy bar membership while contributing to the solvency of the association. He points out that, as a benefit of CBA membership, these new members will be eligible to use the legal research tool Casemaker at no cost. But what if they already use Lexis or Westlaw now, and don’t want to learn a new program?
“If you like your legal research plan, you can keep your legal research plan,” Turner promises.
By Craig Eley, an administrative law judge who has a $125 cotton covered IKEA couch in his chambers. He can be reached at email@example.com.