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Judicial Excellence Dinner Celebrates Bringing Courts Closer to the People

While prominent Americans–including U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts–have decried the growing politicization of our federal court system, 570 leading Coloradans gathered at the Denver Hilton City Center Oct. 18 to celebrate 52 years of fair and impartial state courts at the Colorado Judicial Institute’s 16th annual Judicial Excellence for Colorado awards dinner.

The Colorado Judicial Institute (CJI) is a private, nonpartisan citizen organization dedicated to preserving fair and impartial courts in Colorado while fostering excellence in the state’s judiciary and furthering public understanding of the legal system. This year, it honored Denver District Judge Morris B. Hoffman, Jefferson County Court Judge Thomas E. Vance and Denver Juvenile Court Magistrate Lisa Gomez for outstanding performance and leadership on the bench.

CJI also honored Chief Judge Alan M. Loeb of the Colorado Court of Appeals and retired Chief Justice of the Colorado Supreme Court Nancy Rice. While past dinners have featured a keynote speaker, often from out of state, that custom was scrapped this year to allow extra film commentaries about the honorees as well as remarks from the honored judges themselves.

This less formal approach produced a more intimate atmosphere as the honorees spoke of the challenges and rewards of their jobs.

Gomez was hailed for “understanding the complexity of the modern family and putting families first in the courtroom.”

Magistrate Gomez spoke for all her colleagues when she said “For us, this is not a job. It’s a calling.”

Judge Vance was hailed for helping citizens who represent themselves “feel as at home in the courtroom as the most experienced attorney.”

The veteran jurist said his years on the bench had taught him that “There are three sides to every story. Your side, my side and, somewhere between them, the truth.

“Three words are important to judging: demeanor, demeanor and demeanor. Treat other people as you would like to be treated yourself and remember – ‘da meaner’ you are, the harder it gets,” Judge Vance joked.

Judge Hoffman noted the strain that running a courtroom often puts heavy demands on a judge’s staff and family. Still, he smiled “After all these years, I still can’t believe they pay me for this job.”

Justice Richard Gabriel, who now serves on the Colorado Supreme Court, said Judge Loeb “Saved me from myself on many occasions” while the two served together on the Court of Appeals. “Yet, he was so kind and respectful you never resented it.”

Retired Court of Appeals Justice Sandra Rothenberg said of the recently retired Justice Rice: “She’s got the wisdom, she’s got the brainpower and she wants to do the right thing. How can you beat that?”

Besides honoring judicial excellence, the annual dinner helps promote that excellence by raising money for CJI’s efforts on behalf of education and training for Colorado judges and court personnel. CJI also uses those finds to support the merit system of judicial selection that Colorado voters established in a 1966 Constitutional Amendment.

In lieu of the hotly partisan and heavily financed elections plaguing many states, when a vacancy on the bench occurs in Colorado, non-partisan commissions review potential replacements and nominate two or three candidates to the governor. Once appointed, a judge serves at least two years before facing voters in a non-partisan retention election. If voters decide not to give the judge a full term, the merit process starts over again. If retained, the judge serves a term of ten years on the Supreme Court, eight years on the Court of Appeals, six years for the District Court and four years for county courts. At the end of the term, the judge can stand for retention to another term, but may not serve in office past his or her 72nd birthday.

The merit selection system is backed by high standards for judicial conduct and performance. An independent commission on judicial discipline reviews complaints against judges and may institute disciplinary or removal proceedings for violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct. This commission also may retire a judge for disability of a permanent character interfering with performance of duties.

More About the Awardees

Magistrate Award: Magistrate Lisa M. Gomez, Denver Juvenile Court. Magistrate Gomez graduated with a degree in criminal justice from Metropolitan State University of Denver.  She attended law school at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law.  After working as a guardian ad litem for Denver County and a respondent parent council, she joined the bench as a Denver Juvenile Court Magistrate.  In addition to her docket, Gomez leads many of her court’s efforts in defining best practices for dependency and neglect cases, truancy reform, and juvenile delinquency and paternity cases. She is very involved with task groups connected to the Child Support State Office and speaks annually at the Child Support Family Conference.

County Court Judge Award: Judge Thomas E. Vance, Jefferson County. Judge Vance was appointed to the Jefferson County Court in 2004. Prior to his appointment, he served for ten years as a Jefferson County Court Magistrate. He received a BA in Economics from the University of Denver and earned his law degree from the University of Denver Law School. He has presided over both criminal and civil dockets in Jefferson County.  Judge Vance presides over criminal, domestic violence, protection orders, and other civil actions. For more than the last year, he has presided over a civil-only court implemented to address a backlog of civil cases. Judge Vance is active in the local community working with and coaching teens. In addition, he conducts and judges  mock trials and attends small claims court with high school students.

District Court Judge Award: Judge Morris B. Hoffman, 2nd Judicial District. Judge Hoffman was appointed to the Denver District Court in 1990. Prior to his appointment, he was in private practice in Denver, specializing in commercial litigation, real estate, and bankruptcy law. Judge Hoffman graduated with a degree in mathematics from the University of Colorado and received his law degree from the University of Colorado School of Law in 1977. He is judge-in-residence at the Gruter Institute for Law and Behavioral Research and was nominated in 2002 to be a fellow at Stanford’s Center for the Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences.  In 2007, he was invited to join the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s grants for the study of law and neuroscience.  He is nationally recognized in the field of law and neuroscience and authored a book in 2014 entitled "The Punishers Brain".  

Special Recognition: Chief Judge Alan M. Loeb, Colorado Court of Appeals. Chief Judge Alan Loeb, a Denver native, graduated from East Denver High School in 1964 and Stanford University in 1968. He graduated from the University of Michigan Law School in 1971 where he was editor of the Michigan Law Review.  Loeb practiced with the firm of Davis Graham & Stubbs LLP from 1971 through 2003. He was a partner from 1977 through 2003.  His practice focused on complex civil litigation and appeals, with an emphasis on securities and corporate litigation and counseling. In 2003, he was appointed to the Colorado Court of Appeals.  He became that court’s chief judge in 2013.  Chief Judge Loeb is a frequent speaker on appellate advocacy and procedure at continuing legal education programs and was managing editor of the Colorado Appellate Handbook. He served as the chairperson of the Colorado Supreme Court Standing Committee on Appellate Rules.

Special Recognition: Chief Justice Nancy E. Rice, Colorado Supreme Court. Chief Justice Rice was appointed to the Colorado Supreme Court in 1998 and was selected by the members of the court to serve as chief justice in 2013. Before that, she served as a district court judge in the Second Judicial District (Denver) from 1987 to 1998. Before taking the bench, Rice served as an assistant U.S. attorney from 1977 to 1987 and as the deputy chief of the appellate division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Colorado from 1985 to 1987. She also served as a deputy state public defender in the appellate division from 1975 to 1976. Rice received her undergraduate degree from Tufts University in 1972 and her law degree from the University of Utah College of Law in 1975. She has served as an adjunct professor of law at the University of Colorado Law School and the University of Denver Sturm College of Law.


Bob Ewegen, who retired from The Denver Post in 2008 after more than 36 years at the paper, is CJI Journalist in residence and an emeritus member of the CJI Board. He is director of communications and research at the Ewegen Law firm headed by his daughter, Misty Ewegen.