2014 DBA Award Winners

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Award of Merit: Judge Richard Gabriel

RichGabriel--headshot-300dpiLawyer. Judge. Trumpet Player. These are just a few of the words that describe Richard Gabriel—and none of them comes close to doing him justice. The two-dimension descriptions don’t catch what makes Judge Gabriel so unique—because he’s also the kid from Brooklyn with big dreams, an avid music lover, a grateful mentor, a social enthusiast, a proud family man, and most of all, a consummate professional.

“As a lawyer, you have your credibility and integrity. Once you lose that, you can’t get it back,” Gabriel says. “It’s critically important to take the high road regardless of what your opponent does.”

Gabriel is clearly the rare example of someone who lives by his words. He was the first generation in his family to attend college—at Yale, no less. After graduation, he went on to law school at the University of Pennsylvania. Gabriel spent more than 18 years at Holme Roberts & Owen before being appointed a judge on the Colorado Court of Appeals.

“I’ve been extremely fortunate to have people and opportunities that opened doors for me,” Gabriel says. “And that’s something, as a mentor, I’ve tried to do for others—it’s part of giving back.”

Citing Dan Hoffman as one of his great mentors, Gabriel says that he gave him the “case of a lifetime.” He worked with Hoffman on a Michael Jackson copyright case, in which a Denver woman claimed she had written Jackson’s hit “Dangerous.” This led to more opportunities for Gabriel to mix his two passions: the law and music. After working on another case for Sony years later, Gabriel was asked to be Local Counsel for Colorado, and later became the Lead National Counsel for the Recording Industry Association of America in its lawsuits against illegal file-sharers.

A strong sense of discipline makes Gabriel successful not only in the law, but also in music. He stills plays his trumpet an hour every day, and can often be found around town playing gigs with groups such as the Colorado Wind Ensemble.

Throughout his impressive career, Gabriel has been a consistent voice advocating for increased professionalism and civility. He explains: “On this side of the bench, I can confirm that Rambo lawyering doesn’t work. You just lose credibility.”

If you need proof that the highest levels of professionalism and civility build a lasting career, look no further than Award of Merit winner Judge Gabriel. He has impacted the legal community in countless ways, from his involvement in the bar association to his renowned work ethic and reputation.

“I’m very surprised and very touched,” Gabriel said of the honor.

Surprised, Judge Gabriel? We can’t think of anyone who is more deserving.

Judicial Excellence: Judge Dennis Graham

DSC_0006As Judge Dennis Graham is describing his mentor, Hon. Robert McWilliams, whom he clerked for after law school, he says “his integrity and fairness were absolutely exemplary.”

The same could be said of Judge Graham today. An esteemed figure in the legal community, Graham attended Colorado State University, then went on to law school at the University of Nebraska. He was drafted in his first year, however, and spent three years in the Army before returning to finish law school. After working as a civil litigation attorney focused on securities law and commercial transactions from 1976 to 2002, Graham was appointed to the Colorado Court of Appeals. He is currently the Chairman of the Colorado Judicial Ethics Advisory Board and Chairman of the Judicial Personnel Board When he isn’t working, Graham is riding his bike—he’s an avid cyclist and has completed numerous Ride the Rockies Tours.

Throughout his legal journey, Graham has always embodied judicial excellence and served the profession with dignity and a strong sense of professionalism.

“One of the reasons I mentor students today is because I had such wonderful mentors,” Graham says. “They were senior attorneys who were more interested in my development as a person than just my billable hours. I was very fortunate.”

Highly respected by practitioners and peers, Graham has focused on shaping the law since he was a young boy. He remembers growing up in a politically turbulent time: Kids were kept from attending school in Little Rock, President Kennedy was assassinated, Nixon was impeached, and more.

“I recognized that the republic is driven by the rule of law,” Graham explains. “I wanted to be a part of that.”

Now, he is much more than just a part of it; he is one of the leaders in our legal community. Graham strives to always tell the truth, saying it is simply the best advice he’s ever received. This laudable commitment to honesty and dedication to the improvement of our profession is just a part of why he is honored by the DBA as an esteemed judge. Amazingly, he isn’t quite convinced.

“I’m thankful to those who nominated me and hopeful that I can live up to their expectations,” Graham notes. “But I’m surrounded by colleagues on the bench much more deserving than me.”

The Judicial Excellence award isn’t the only thing Judge Graham is celebrating this year: he and his wife recently observed their 38th anniversary!

Young Lawyer of the Year: Margrit Lent Parker

photoMargrit Lent Parker isn’t sure why she’s been crowned Young Lawyer of the Year. In fact, her first reaction was confusion. And that’s exactly why she’s the best choice—she continuously gives her time to the bar association while working tirelessly at her firm, expecting nothing in return.

Now, Parker is gaining recognition for all of those times in which she says “I just saw something that needed to be done and did it.”

Take the Colorado wildfires and floods, for example. Parker volunteered to be the District Representative for the ABA Young Lawyers Division, and decided that their old disaster plans needed reworking. So, she put together a committee to draft a new one. Just a few months later, the Colorado wildfires began. Parker helped to set up a legal helpline and find volunteers. Then, the Colorado flooding occurred, and they had the basis to put more of a plan in place. Along with the helpline and call for volunteers, they created a website. Their efforts served more than 600 flood survivors.

Parker is very involved with the DBA and CBA, and also has thrown much of her time into the Colorado Attorney Mentoring Program (CAMP). “Working on that was so rewarding,” she says.

A recent transfer to the new Childs McCune firm, Parker is a down-to-earth attorney who loves to ride horses in her (rare) free time. In college, she started out on the veterinarian track and graduated with a double degree in Equine Science and Zoology. She loved the year she spent after college working in Kentucky on a Thoroughbred farm and at an equine hospital, but decided that law was her calling. She now mixes her passion and profession by working with the veterinary and equine industries.

One thing is certain when it comes to Parker’s future in the legal profession: She’ll continue to do what needs to be done—then more.

Volunteer of the Year: Ilene Lin Bloom

IBloomFinal copy“I hope we can reach a point where volunteering is just a part of a lawyer’s practice, and not out of the ordinary.”

Ilene Lin Bloom is very grateful to be honored as the Denver Bar Association’s Volunteer of the Year, and she’s also hopeful that in the future a greater number of attorneys will take on volunteer projects. She wants to inspire other lawyers to integrate volunteering and pro bono into their practice and everyday legal lives.

Bloom refutes the excuse “I don’t have enough time.” As an attorney, volunteer, wife, mother and former DBA President, she does it all. In fact, during her 2011–12 presidency, Bloom worked to increase pro bono education within the community, and strove to help lawyers find room for volunteering on their list of priorities.

An enthusiastic activist, Bloom attended school knowing she wanted to help children through the law. She went through a first-of-its-kind Child Law program at Loyola Law School in Chicago, and trained to advocate on behalf of abused and neglected children.

Since moving to Denver, Bloom has been consistently involved in the DBA. She chaired the DBA Legal Services Committee for seven years and served on the Access to Justice Commission, testifying as a commissioner in state hearings. She helps administer Legal Nights at El Centro, and recently increased her community involvement by chairing a silent auction for the local charity WeeCycle.

Bloom is the current co-chair of the Fit to Practice Task Force as well, channeling her energy into promoting a healthy lifestyle for the local legal community and making the DBA more relevant to its members.

“It’s very important for lawyers to be physically fit,” Bloom explains. “It helps them be mentally fit and it helps their happiness levels and their ability to step away from the practice of law and create a work–life balance.”

Finding a healthy life balance is vital for all professionals —and lawyers are no exception. Bloom notes that the happiest lawyers she’s met are those who are able to manage their professional aspirations, their health and their family as best as possible. In other words, follow Bloom’s impressive example.

Education in the Legal System Award Winner: Craig Dehning, Skinner Middle School

“It’s critically important that we teach civics in 8th grade because they’re not necessarily getting it later. It’s the foundation of law.”

Craig Dehning, an 8th grade U.S. History teacher at Skinner Middle School, is serious when it comes to shaping the future generation. He explains that for many, the last year of middle school is the only time kids will learn about the Constitution in Denver Public Schools. There is an elective civics class in high school, but it isn’t mandatory. And, the high school where many of his kids continue on has a shockingly high drop-out rate. So, he takes every chance he can get to impact their education.

“It’s so important for the kids to have some idea about the beginning of our country, the creation of the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights—among others,” Dehning says.

Although he was almost a lawyer, Dehning has clearly found his knack in teaching. His voice fills with enthusiasm when describing the value of showing kids how success feels. His favorite part of teaching is seeing the learning curve—how those kids take that knowledge and become confident. Dehning encourages his students to always ask questions, explaining: “Learning comes from questioning.”

Praising the “We the People” program, Dehning says that it’s a really great way for kids to dive into the Constitution and learn more about legal topics, such as the structure of our government and the Fifth Amendment. He hopes that more schools will become involved in it in the future.

“We need to make sure the foundation of our government and society is taught to kids,” Dehning says.

Education in the Legal System Award Winner: Theresa Storto, Kunsmiller Creative Arts Academy

Typically, growing up means learning from your mistakes.

That same idea is often applied—in a more general sense—to education. The more students learn about the past, the better they can shape the future. Eighth-grade social studies teacher Theresa Storto believes this is a critical aspect of her history curriculum. She teaches the students at Kunsmiller Creative Arts Academy that to improve the future, you have to understand the past.

An important part of Storto’s social studies teaching plan is the “We the People” program. She encourages her students to participate in Mock Congressional Hearings each year, where they become experts in parts of the Constitution.

“They’re the future and they need to know the Constitution to understand that they do have power,” Storto explains, “so that they can make the changes they feel are necessary for a better world.”

Along with the legal knowledge, students also gain confidence in their expertise and abilities throughout the program. Storto says that showing kids how they can make a difference is one of the most rewarding aspects of being a teacher. She strives to always provide them with inspiration and hope for the future—and the courage to believe in who they are and what they can do.

Outstanding Program: Colorado Lawyers for Colorado Veterans Denver Clinics

When John Vaught returned home from Vietnam, something was missing: support from his fellow Americans.

Fast forward decades and a law school education later to Vaught’s involvement with Colorado Lawyers for Colorado Veterans (CLCV). Determined to provide the support he didn’t get for those who have served our country, Vaught approached Mark Fogg (then CBA President) about creating a veterans affairs program. As it turns out, Chief Justice Bender was working on a similar idea. So, several factors and ideas converged, and Vaught and Ben Currier, the CBA YLD Chair at the time, were tasked with getting CLCV started.

Their immediate mission was to form clinics around the state where CBA volunteer lawyers could meet with veterans who needed legal assistance but couldn’t afford it. Now, there are nine clinics around Colorado, and the initial program concept has expanded to form the CBA Military & Veterans Affairs Section. The members of that section are responsible not only for maintaining and improving the clinics, but also for developing other ways to help veterans in the community.

Since its inception in 2011, the CLCV clinics have served more than 400 veterans and assigned 175 pro bono cases to volunteer lawyers. Common legal topics addressed include VA benefits, landlord–tenant issues and domestic issues. Lawyers across the state have been instrumental in volunteering their time to participate in these clinics and help veterans. Sometimes, all that’s needed is 15 minutes of advice or legal direction, while other times a pro bono case or reduced-free relationship is arranged. Any way you look at it, CLCV is a highly valuable program that’s helping to unite our community.

“There’s a huge satisfaction in helping,” Vaught says, “in reaching out to these people and saying ‘I get it, I understand what you’ve been through. I welcome you home and want to try to help you in a real way.”

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