his year, the Colorado Lawyers Committee (CLC), a nonpartisan consortium of 80 Colorado law firms, celebrated 40 years of pro bono legal advocacy for children and the underserved. Formed in 1978, the CLC unites lawyers from all size firms to collaborate on major public policies and systemic justice issues. At any given time, the nonprofit has about 25 active projects in the areas of poverty and public benefits, civil rights and criminal law, children’s rights and education, community development, and immigration. Over the past four decades, the CLC and its 10,772 volunteers have served 44,550 community members and have been at the core of some of the state’s most significant cases.
Much of the work is accomplished through task forces comprising lawyers with differing levels of experience, from different firms, and if politically sensitive, different political parties, to ensure a bipartisan approach. This model of collaboration allows lawyers to be more active on cases when they are available and less active when they don’t have as much time. Additionally, newer lawyers gain hands-on experience working side-by-side with more experienced attorneys.
“Oftentimes, it can be challenging to be able to dedicate the time and resources to large pro bono cases,” says CLC Board Chair Peter Schwartz (Davis Graham & Stubbs LLP). “When the CLC takes on an issue, attorneys from several firms, and various practices and industries come together to problem solve, which gives a broader range of opportunities for lawyers to donate their time and expertise in a significant way.”
Affiliated with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law in Washington D.C., there are only seven other similar organizations in the country. Some CLC accomplishments include:
JAIL WAIT LITIGATION — Center for Legal Advocacy v. Bicha
For more than 10 years, volunteers have worked to ensure that mentally ill individuals in jails receive competency evaluations and treatment within a reasonable amount of time, starting with a 2008 action against the Colorado State Department of Human Services. While a favorable settlement with the State was reached in 2012, as of March 2018, more than 125 people at a time wait more than three months to obtain treatment to restore them to competency, and the plaintiffs have moved to reopen the agreement.
TAYLOR RANCH — Lobato v. Taylor
For more than 20 years, volunteer lawyers have defended the rights of property owners in the San Luis Valley, one of the poorest regions of Colorado, to exercise their traditional use rights to graze livestock and collect wood and timber on the property known as the “Taylor Ranch.” Since 2003, when the Colorado Supreme Court upheld these historic rights, the team has focused on identifying the thousands of landowners entitled to access and successfully quashed efforts to prevent physical access to the property. The case was recently argued at the Colorado Court of Appeals — for the third time — and the Court upheld the landowners’ rights.
Since 1993, CLC volunteers have presented trials in schools across the state based on a fictional case arising from a violation of Colorado’s hate/bias crimes statute. The program sparks discussion about diversity and the value of preventing the spread of racial slurs and hateful actions among the students who act as jurors. The CLC is now in the process of creating a guide to take the program nationwide in 2019.
In conjunction with the Denver Bar Association Young Lawyers Division and the Denver Access to Justice Committee, hundreds of volunteers provide legal information and referrals at Denver legal clinics that occur twice a month in Denver, and every other month in Greeley. D
For more information on the CLC and its many task forces and volunteer projects, visit coloradolawyerscommitee.org.