Award of Merit: Charles Turner
Much to Chuck Turner’s chagrin, this is his second Award of Merit win in the past year. After being presented with the Colorado Bar Association’s highest honor a few months ago, he was also selected as the Denver Bar Association’s 2015 Award of Merit winner.
Few have made such a dent in bar association history as Turner, who recently retired after 34 years as the CBA/DBA Executive Director. Considering that most are already familiar with his story—from growing up in Pennsylvania to serving in Vietnam to attending Denver Law—we focused instead on the copious wisdom he’s gathered over time.
After all, who better to comment on the changing legal profession and dole out advice than Turner, who has decades of experience leading and working with attorneys?
“There’s a very difficult balance in our profession with the economic and cultural pressures that come to bear on lawyers,” he says. “It’s hard for lawyers to maintain the respect they used to have, given these sorts of seismic sociological currents.”
Turner believes that while attorneys today are facing a lot of economic and competitive downward pressure, it’s critical to remember the historical position and values of the profession. Keeping concepts such as professionalism top-of-mind helps when it comes to facing yourself in the mirror, he says.
Known for his dedication to the administration of justice, Turner constantly worked to keep a balance among the bar, the greater legal profession, and the local community. He says that he received great advice from other Executive Directors in terms of pushing for your own views versus acceding to the views and decisions of the association, however they’re arrived at.
“One said to me: ‘You always have to think: Is this the ditch I want to die in?’” Turner says. “In other words, make sure that the cause you’re pushing for or against is important enough that you really want to put your career on the line.”
Looking back, he appreciates the collaboration between attorneys for the greater good: “There have been a number of very thoughtful and animated discussions with the board of governors and the board of trustees and I’ve always been impressed with how concerned the members were about the perception of the legal profession and the bar association,” Turner says. “I’m gratified that I had some role in that and could communicate those decisions to the public.”
When asked what he misses most about the bar (so far), Turner quickly says the staff and being involved in the rewarding decision-making process with bar officers, justices of the Supreme Court and legislators. He also misses traveling around the state for local bar visits.
“I enjoyed going to some of the smaller communities and getting a real sense on the ground of what those lawyers were interested in,” he says. “It’s important to keep interests of all lawyers foremost in our concerns about what the association is doing.”
Outside of the law, Turner has already taken advantage of his newfound free time. He and his wife Debbie have traveled to Cambodia, Vietnam and Hawaii in the past few months. He’s started running again and bikes often. Plus, he’s thrilled to have more time with family: All three of his sons—Brian, David and Michael—and their families, live in town.
Judicial Excellence: Hon. Ruben Hernandez
State of Colorado Probate Court, Denver County
“I’m still surprised,” Hon. Ruben Hernandez says. “I don’t win awards!”
Until he received one of the top Denver Bar Association awards, that is.
It was only a matter of time before Hernandez’s humble outlook and hard work ethic was not only noticed, but celebrated. As the 2015 Judicial Excellence winner, Hernandez is praised for his contributions to the legal community and improvement of the judicial system as a whole. Currently a Magistrate at the Denver Probate Court, as well as a mediator and arbitrator, he embodies the ideals of the judiciary in ethics, professionalism and community service.
Yet Hernandez’s legal journey up to this achievement has been anything but traditional. He lived in Mexico for the first 13 years of his life before his family moved to Texas. He attended the University of Texas at El Paso for his undergraduate degree, and then took a job with a telephone company. He eventually moved to Denver, and worked for Pacific Bell, Mountain Bell, and then U.S. West Communications.
During that time, he also attended night school at the University of Denver—earning both his MBA and JD there. Once he graduated law school and passed the bar, he left the telephone company and accepted a position as a deputy district attorney in Alamosa.
“There were only three deputy DA’s so I was able to step right in to trials,” Hernandez says, citing that as a favorite point in his legal career because of everything he learned.
Hernandez later opened a general practice while he and his wife Patsy were living in Greeley. He got into family law and became an associate municipal judge.
“I liked the fact that I could hear all of the evidence and look at the law without arguing one specific side,” Hernandez explains of his first taste of the judiciary.
After Greeley, Hernandez and Patsy spent nearly 10 years in Glenwood Springs, where he worked as a contract attorney and research assistant and eventually as a part-time magistrate. He also started coaching high school mock trial students in Glenwood Springs.
“We won national four years in a row!” Hernandez says proudly. “I especially like working with young people and seeing their dedication to learning.”
Still involved with the mock trials in Denver, Hernandez now judges at the regional and state competitions, and is on the DBA committee. He’s very active in other bar association activities as well. He is a current DBA representative to the CBA Board of Governors, serves on the CBA Executive Council, and graduated from COBALT—the CBA’s leadership program—in 2013.
Hernandez is certainly a leader with much experience to offer those in the legal community. He cites trust and preparation as the two most important lessons in both life and the law.
“Trust is something you can lose so quickly,” he says. “Don’t ever do anything that violates anyone’s trust.”
When Hernandez isn’t working, he loves to ski (he spent twenty years as a volunteer ski patrol!) and bike, and he’s currently taking guitar and piano lessons. He also loves spending time with his family. He and Patsy have two daughters: Cynthia, an attorney in Denver, and Brandi, who’s raising her family in Glenwood Springs.
“I credit my wife for supporting me through everything,” he says. “Whatever I’ve done in my career, she’s been there for it all.”
Volunteer of the Year: John McHugh
The phrase “Volunteer of the Year” is not nearly expansive enough to describe John McHugh. He didn’t merely lend a hand to a project or offer up a little free work each month; he put in hundreds of hours as the lead attorney in the lawsuit that challenged Colorado’s laws prohibiting same-sex marriage.
“The oral argument for the marriage equality case in front of Judge Crabree was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done,” McHugh says. “There was definitely the feeling that it was extremely important.”
The landmark McDaniels-Miccio, et. v. State of Colorado case—one of three filed in the state, consolidated with Brinkman, et al. v. Long, et al., represented by Odgen & Wilcox—was an especially high-profile litigation case for an attorney like McHugh with barely five years of law practice under his belt. But his passion for pro bono and advocacy clearly made up for experience tenfold.
“I don’t really view the marriage equality case as just a benefit for same sex couples,” he explains. “I really believe that an increase in liberty for one group is an increase in liberty for everybody.”
Currently a litigation associate at Reilly Pozner, McHugh took quite the interesting journey to become a lawyer. After completing his undergrad degree at the University of Idaho, he spent a year with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in Montana. After that, he moved to Boston and worked as a higher education textbook editor at Houghton Mifflin Co. While doing so, he also took a side job teaching the GRE for Caplan. They asked if he could help teach the LSAT too, but you have to take it before you can teach it.
And the rest, as they say, is history. McHugh liked the material and did well enough on the practice LSAT that he realized he could get into a decent school. He attended New York University School of Law, graduating in 2009.
Now an active member in the Denver legal community, McHugh is on the Board of the Colorado GLBT Bar Association and is a Center for Legal Inclusiveness’ Community Connection Initiative member. The GLBT Community Center of Colorado named him Barrister of the Year in 2015, and Law Week Colorado honored him with Lawyer of the Year and Up-and-Coming Lawyer titles in 2014.
“I want to continue to be involved in pro bono work that has a significant impact for the community and Colorado,” McHugh says with passion, noting that he’s thankful Reilly Pozner takes this commitment seriously. “It’s great to work at a place where pro bono is as important as fee-generating cases.”
While he is proud to say that he loves his work and the act of advocating for others, McHugh also makes the most of his time outside the office. He and his husband, Rob, adopted their daughter Emma in the fall. Between juggling work and parenting—and especially supervising Emma’s attempts at walking—McHugh likes to go hiking with their three dogs and work on home improvements projects.
Young Lawyer of the Year: Gillian Bidgood
“A lot of where I am today is because of mentors who have helped me get here,” says Gillian Bidgood.
The 2015 Young Lawyer of the Year is passionate about mentoring, explaining that it’s a big theme throughout everything she’s involved in—both in and out of the legal profession. And you could say that it all goes back to her first mentor: her brownie troop leader Pat Tisdale.
Tisdale was an attorney at Holme Roberts & Owen LLP when Bidgood was in college at the University of Colorado Boulder, and she helped Bidgood get an internship at a local law firm to learn what lawyers did. After working at the reception desk and getting a taste of the legal world that summer, Bidgood was sold.
“I liked it and was interested in what they were doing,” she says. “And I loved writing and public speaking.”
So, Bidgood attended Denver Law following graduation, and went on to work at Holme Roberts & Owen. After four years there, she moved to Polsinelli (where she remains as a Shareholder today), and met another woman she considers to be an influential mentor in her life: Stacy Carpenter.
“I saw everything she was doing and thought it was so great,” Bidgood says. “Stacy is my role model in terms of the importance of the bar association for the legal profession.”
Excited to get involved, Bidgood threw her name in to be on the DBA YLD Executive Council—and hasn’t looked back since. She served on the council from 2008–2012, and is now on the DBA Board of Trustees. She is also a COBALT graduate and on too many committees and sections to name! Plus, she was recently appointed to Chief Justice Rice’s Commission on Professional Development.
Wise beyond her young lawyer years, Bidgood has plenty of advice to offer for those just starting out. She often refers back to a concept several mentors passed down to her: “The practice of law is a sprint, not a marathon.” She notes that can be applied in several ways—both personally and professionally—and that lawyers have to preserve themselves and prevent burnout so that they’re physically and mentally prepared to help others.
“We have to realize that the people we’re across the table or aisle from are going to be the same people we see down the road (possibly on the same side next time), which is a good reminder about professionalism,” Bidgood says.
“And, sometimes when dealing with a legal dispute, we focus solely on the immediate goals, but it’s important to keep your eye on the big picture.”
It’s hard to believe Bidgood has the same number of hours in her day as the rest of us, as she has also recently been involved with organizations such as the Parkinson Association of the Rockies and the Phi Beta Kappa Alpha Association of Colorado. Plus, she devotes much of her time to her husband, an environmental engineer, and her 9-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son. They often partake in active family outings like ice skating or swimming.
“But, a lot of my free time is spent at the bar association!” she laughs.
Education in the Legal System: Doug Wilhelm
“When I see a kid catch fire learning and they just get it, nothing compares to that,” Doug Wilhelm explains of his favorite teaching moments. An 8th grade history teacher at Hamilton Middle School, Wilhelm is the 2015 Education in the Legal System honoree.
A native Ohioan who received both his undergraduate and master’s degrees at the University of Colorado Denver, Wilhelm has been teaching middle school students for nearly 25 years.
“They’re not too cool yet and can still get excited about learning,” Wilhelm says smiling when explaining why 8th grade is his ideal teaching age.
The Constitution is at the core of his classes because everything in history circles back to it. He says that he hopes to teach his students how important the rule of law is, and that democracy is a participatory sport they need to be active in.
In an effort to provide his 8th graders with a more in-depth take on National History Day, Wilhelm merged it with the “Night of the Notables” project done in other schools. Now called the “Evening of Eminence,” the program he created is in its sixth year and fills both gyms at their school (more than 600 people typically attend).
The Evening of Eminence is a year-long research project in which the students in Wilhelm’s class choose a person who has made a positive contribution to society. They read their biography, discover their contributions through time and examine their historical perspective. Then, the kids create a learning center and present this museum-like scene at a booth on the big night with an exhibit board, annotative bibliography, compiled or created artifacts, and more. Each student has to act in character throughout the event, answering questions and engaging and educating others.
“When I walked in and saw them all that first year, I was blown away with what they put together,” Wilhelm says. “This gives them a chance to really do something in-depth. With so much testing, we sometimes forget what makes kids excited to learn.”
Wilhelm’s son was in his class last year, and chose Steve Jobs for his Evening of Eminence project. It isn’t always easy for kids to discover an influential person they connect with, but Wilhelm says that when they finally do, it makes it all the more real and teaches them that history isn’t just an old, abstract concept.
Not only does Wilhelm inspire his students, but they inspire him, as well. “I have what I like to call a mini board of directors,” he chuckles, noting that it’s important to actually talk to kids and take their perspective into account. He believes that students—not tests or administrators—are the best evaluators in terms of the impact you’re making in education. And clearly, we agree!
Outstanding Program: Court Mediation Services
Long before Court Mediation Services (CMS) was around, a little program called Court Annexed Mediation Services (CAMP) started hiring mediators to help at the local Denver courts. Flash forward a few years, and the entirely volunteer-run CAMP was in exceeding need of support and an administrator.
Jeanne Busacca, a domestic relations attorney (and now Program Chair of CMS), got involved in the effort with John Baker, DBA President at the time, to change CAMP to CMS and get it approved as an official “stand-alone committee” of the DBA. They also hired Lisa Hughes, a licensed professional counselor with a master’s in organization communications and a certificate in alternative dispute resolution, to be the Executive Director.
Since those moments of uncertainty in 2009, the program has grown from 95–100 mediation cases a year to roughly 500 cases a year (currently). Mandatory mediation in the Denver County Courts has also contributed greatly to the growth. Before the courts made mediation mandatory, Busacca and Hughes would have to go around asking: “Are you interested in mediation? Can we help you?”
CMS now provides mediation services to the Denver County Civil, Small Claims, Probate, Protection Order and Domestic Relations Courts. They have nearly 200 volunteer mediators who went through the application process—including background checks and training—to get involved. These volunteers include experienced and young lawyers, as well as a range of other professionals such as human resource specialists.
CMS is a unique program because the volunteers receive in-depth mentoring and constant training, plus observation and peer reviews after each mediation. Hughes notes that they are very proud of how well-trained their mediators are—and clearly these volunteers have contributed to their impressive reputation around the community.
“We have trained magistrates and judges and it’s very satisfying to watch them learn how to help people reach their own conclusions through self-determination and problem-solving,” Busacca says. Hughes is quick to agree, and they both note that, along with receiving the DBA Outstanding Program of the Year Award, many of their memorable moments include the support they receive from the courts.
“We work hard to build relationships with the court,” Hughes says. “And, to find better ways to work together and become more successful in our cases.”
Moving forward, CMS is hoping to expand to help other judicial districts get programs like this in place and to be able to offer additional specialty trainings for mediators. Before this can happen, however, they have to focus on fundraising. More than half of what CMS operates on is from the mediation fees, and the rest is from the generosity of the bar, county court, and community. Those interested in donating to the program can do so through the Colorado Bar Foundation, coloradobarfoundation.org.