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Judicial Excellence for Colorado Dinner

2003 Judicial Excellence for Colorado Dinner

Colorado Judicial Institute honors three jurists for excellence and raises funds for judicial Education.

By Marcelo Mainzer (
November 6, 2003

The excitement was palpable at the Marriott City Center just before six o’clock, as Sheila Gutterman, Megan Handley, Dana Nelson, Connie Talmage and M.Gordon Butz waited for the guests to arrive for the first annual Colorado Judicial Excellence Awards dinner.  Nilli Merchant of the Marriot made sure that everything was ready.

Soon the room was awash in judges, attorneys, corporate leaders and citizens concerned with the quality of the judicial system in Colorado.  As Dean Gene Nichols would say later in the evening, quoting Alexander Hamilton, “Justices must have the courage to regulate their decisions by the fundamental laws rather than the tensions and pressures of ordinary politics” and the work of the CJI is testament to the potential of independent Judicial Review.

The Colorado Judicial Institute was formed as a nonprofit in 1979 by a group of community leaders, most of whom were not attorneys.  The goal of the CJI was and is to promote excellence in the Colorado judicial system by building trust through education about the legal system.

Some methods that CJI have adopted to achieve its goals are Colorado Judiciary: A Voters' Guide; to provide biographical information and answers to pertinent questions about all Colorado judges up for retention election.  And Judicial Performance Evaluation: a citizen's committee to evaluate the performance of the judges.  Mock Trial Competitions: statewide high school mock trial competitions.  Commemoration of the Bicentennial of the U.S. Bill of Rights: sponsoring five college-community forums with the theme "The Judiciary and the Bill of Rights: Past, Present and Future."  The National Public Trust and Confidence Project: to improve public trust and confidence in the Judiciary.  And events like Alternative Dispute Resolution: a one-day statewide conference on ADR developments in Colorado.  Attendees explored the public policy implications of using ADR in the courts, government, the private sector and communities.

The first annual Colorado Judicial Excellence Awards dinner was a forum for recognizing individuals who exemplified the kind of judiciary the CJI was created to support and promote.

Just after seven the guests had arrived and had time to doff their coats, mingle and utilize the two cash bars set up outside the ballroom.  A chime was sounded and everyone moved into the large room and found their seats.  The first to take the podium was Peter D. Willis, Board Chair with CJI, who opened the evening by reviewing the mission statement of the Colorado Judicial Institute, the ideal of which is: Represent the consumer in working to preserve a fair and independent judiciary by providing leadership in identifying and preserving the principles and concepts upon which our judicial system is founded.  Cooperating with other groups to improve our system of justice, disseminating information relating to the law thereby initiating and furthering constructive court reform.

Peter Willis then introduced Bertha Lynn, 7NEWS Anchor, by enumerating some of her many accomplishments, including her Emmy for Best On-Air Personality by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, the Women's Leadership Circle Award from the Girl Scouts Mile Hi Council and Journalist of the Year for Broadcasting from the Colorado Association of Black Journalists.  He also mentioned her extensive education at Washington State University, the Sorbonne in Paris and l'Universita' diUrbino in Italy.

Bertha Lynn thanked Peter Willis and saluted some of the people who have worked so hard to raise the level of excellence in the Colorado legal community beginning with Chief Justice Mary Mullarkey.  Then she thanked some of the event sponsors: Denver Marriott City Center, Baker & Hostetler LLP, Holland & Hart LLP, Haddon Morgan Mueller Jordan Mackey & Foreman P.C. and the service providers who contributed, like IKON Office Solutions Inc., for printing the program and Primo Vino who supplied the wine.

Next to take the podium were Connie Talmage and Ralf Torres to give out the coveted awards. First of the Judicial Excellence Awards for a magistrate went to Hon. Tijani Cole, District Court, 20th Judicial District.  Magistrate Cole is very active in improving ways that the judiciary can work with its local communities.  He is the co-founder of Boulder Prep High School, Justice High School, and Zoubida Colorado Junior College, and has received numerous awards, including the 2002 Boulder Valley School District Excellence Award, the 2001, and the “I Have a Dream” Foundation’s Dream Maker Award.  He has also a recipient of the African American Leadership Award and the “Beyond the Gavel” Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Judiciary and Community.”

A holder of five post-graduate degrees, Magistrate Cole has been described by Chief Judge Roxanne Baillin as “extremely well-liked and energetic,” and as “the most helpful and cooperative person anyone could imagine.”

Next, the award for Judicial Excellence at a County level to Hon. Charles T Hoppin, County Court, 1st Judicial District.  Judge Hoppin is an active member of the First District Bar Association, and a member of the Advisory Board for the Jefferson County Mediation Services, a member of the Jefferson County Community Corrections Board.  According to Chief Judge Thomas Woodford of the First Judicial District, Judge Hoppin is always willing take on additional work and he is especially sensitive to the needs of people in family law cases.

The third and final recipient, at the District level, was Hon. Harlan R. Bockman, Chief Judge, 17th Judicial district.  Judge Bockman was appointed to the District Court bench in October 1976.  Prior to his appointment, he was the Assistant District Attorney in Adams County. Recognized by his colleagues as “the dean of the trial bench,” Judge Bockman has heard criminal, civil, domestic, and juvenile cases during his tenure.  He has presided in an exemplary manner over numerous high-profile cases, including four death penalty cases.  He takes pride in his knowledge of rules of evidence and sentencing laws, and he is a mentor and educator for other judges because of his disciplined study of the law.  In the words of his nominators for the Judicial Excellence Award, “Judge Bockman exemplifies the very best of Colorado’s independent, merit-based judiciary.”

Lastly on the agenda was the keynote speech by Dean Gene R. Nichol University of North Carolina Law School.

Dean Nichol’s speech began with humor when he pointed a jibe at himself by suggesting that his friends present should be relieved that he was not there to fund raise for his political aspirations, referring to his run for congress.  His arrows were also pointed outward in reference to initiative 101 and Peter Boyles' involvement by quoting LBJ and his knowledge of chicken salad, among other friendly barbs directed at Colorado politics.

He also admitted he missed some things about Colorado, including the majesty of the Flatirons and the Maroon Bells or the sunset on the National Monument and especially the view of Longs Peak from his “old cabin” in Nederland.  "There is no group of lawyers like the Colorado Bar," he said and, returning to humor, "No community to match the 'Peoples Republic of Boulder,'” who he admitted would be the only city in America that would vote for him consistently in an election.

Dean Nichol went on to congratulate the Colorado Judicial institute and reformers of a generation ago who pushed for, and since sustained, a strong merit selection system in Colorado. Later he said that eighty percent of judges in America are elected but Colorado in his opinion “gets it right."

His speech was moving as when he said, “The present Department of Justice crafts proposal after proposal aimed at cutting back or eliminating judicial review.  It might be good to remind ourselves that judicial review is the cornerstone of the American constitutional structure; this is literally the foundation of liberty that we’re fighting for."

Gene Nichol spoke passionately about such notables as Chief Justice Earl Warren and his assault on segregation in Brown v. the Board of Education, quoting Richard Klugman, "Black citizens would no longer be fastened with the status of official pariah,” and Alexander Hamilton "That justices must have the courage to 'regulate their decisions by fundamental law'" rather than the tensions and pressures of politics.

Mr. Nichol spent some time praising the work of Sandra Day O'Connor, Associate Justice, United States Supreme Court and her contributions to equality under the law.  His speech, while lengthy, was riveting and well deserved of the standing ovation it and he received at its conclusion.

His last words may sum up the gratitude we should all feel for an organization like the Colorado Judicial Institute.  “Congratulations on your good work in the cause of judicially enforceable constitutional liberty. In the tough months ahead I think it is crucial to remain mindful of who we are and what we are about, the cost we have willingly accepted and that you don’t defend the regime of constitutional liberty by abandoning it.” 

CJI Thanks all of the Sponsors of the 2003 Judicial Excellence for Colorado Dinner
Gold Sponsors Baker & Hostetler, LLP
Denver Marriott City Center
Haddon, Morgan, Mueller, Jordan, Mackey & Foreman, P.C.
Holland & Hart LLP
Holme Roberts & Owen LLP
Silver Sponsors

Arnold & Porter
Burns Figa & Will P.C.
CBIZ Accounting, Tax and Advisory Services
Colorado Bar Association
Constance M. Platt
Coors Brewing Company
Davis Graham & Stubbs LLP
Dufford & Brown, P.C.
Faegre & Benson LLP
Gutterman Griffiths & Powell PC
J. Daniel Brinker & Co.
Jacobs Chase Frick Kleinkopf & Kelley LLC
Kutak Rock LLP
McConnell Siderius Fleischner Houghtaling & Craigmile, LLC
McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP
Morrison & Foerster LLP
Patten, MacPhee & Associates, Inc.
Perkins Coie LLP
Wells Fargo Bank, N.A.
Wheeler Trigg Kennedy PC

Bronze Sponsors Arapahoe County Bar Association
Duke Energy Field Services
Hein + Associates LLP
Judicial Arbiter Group
Mackereth Lombritto & Associates, Inc.
Montgomery, Kolodny, Amatuzio & Dusbabek, L.L.P.
Mountain States Employers Council
Moye Giles LLP
Qwest Communications International Inc.
Talmey-Drake Research & Strategy, Inc.
Timmins & Associates, L.L.C.
University of Denver College of Law
Walters & Joyce, P.C.
Contributors Denver Boulder Couriers
Paralegal Resource Center, Inc.,
Special Sponsors Holland & Hart LLP for designing the dinner program
IKON Office Solutions, Inc, for printing the dinner program
Primo Vino for donating the wine served with dinner


Judicial Excellence Awards Nominations Now Open!

Nominations for the CJI Judicial Excellence Awards are open!  Click here to submit a nomination.

If you would like to read more about the awards, please visit the Judicial Excellence Awards page.

If you cannot use our online form, download a PDF of the form below.