Five hundred Coloradans of all political persuasions gathered at the History Colorado Center Oct. 17 to celebrate 53 years of fair and impartial state courts at the Colorado Judicial Institute’s 17th annual Judicial Excellence awards.
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 El Paso County 4th Judicial District Judge Timothy J. Schutz, Denver County Court Judge Olympia Z. Fay and Larimer County’s 8th Judicial District Magistrate Matthew R. Zehe for outstanding performance and leadership on the bench.
CJI also honored two Colorado U.S. District Judges for their outstanding service on the federal bench in this state: Judge Marcia S. Krieger and the late Judge Wiley Daniel.
The spirit of the evening and the attitudes of the honored jurists themselves were exemplified by a quote from literary icon Maya Angelou recounted by Judge Fay: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.”
With that rule in mind, Fay said, she strove to ensure that citizens in her court room not only received procedural fairness but explanations of often complex or arcane legal procedures.
“I’ve learned a judge needs emotional intelligence and heart as well as the legal acumen to serve,” Judge Fay said.
Judge Schutz, who has been active in a wide array of activities to increase citizen access to the court system court as well as such nonlegal groups like Habitat for Humanity, observed that a rule of parenting also applies to a courtroom: “The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.”
He said also tries to remember that, “While the attributes of God are equal, mercy is more brilliant and splendid than justice.”
Magistrate Zehe said he tries to apply lessons learned from some of his own family’s history of alcoholism as he presides over El Paso County’s DUI Recovery Court, which he started in 2008.
“Problem-solving courts can be a positive and compassionate force,” the magistrate said, noting that he works closely with community support groups. He closed with a favorite saying: “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The next-best time is now.”
While CJI’s prime focus is on state courts, it issued special awards this year to two federal jurists who helped pioneer efforts to diversify and revitalize the legal climate in Colorado.
Judge Krieger was named to the U.S. District Court in Colorado in 2001, only the second woman named to that body. She was the first female to serve as chief judge and is now a senior judge. She cofounded Colorado’s unique “Our Courts” civic education project. In her address to the awards ceremony she underscored the need for such education by citing a recent poll noting only 39 percent of Americans can identify the three separate branches of government: the legislative, executive and judicial branches.
Judge Daniel was the first African-American U.S. District Judge in Colorado when he was nominated by President Bill Clinton in 1995. Besides his many legal duties, he emphasized the importance of mentoring children and young adults. He died May 10, 2019.
Besides honoring judicial excellence, the annual awards event 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
Distinguished Judicial Leadership Award: Judge Wiley Y. Daniel, U.S. District Court, District of Colorado. Judge Wiley Young Daniel served as a federal judge after being nominated by President William J. Clinton in 1995 as the first African-American district judge for the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, and served as chief judge from 2008 to 2013. A graduate of Howard University School of Law in 1971, he was born in Louisville, Kentucky. Prior to his time on the bench, he began his legal career in Michigan in 1977 focused on civil litigation, worked as a senior associate at a Denver law firm, and was promoted to partner in early 1980. Thereafter, in 1988 he began handling complex litigation matters in Colorado, Minnesota, and Florida. A trailblazer from the beginning, Judge Daniel was the first and only African American who served in the capacity as President of the CBA in 1992. Additionally, he served as President of the Federal Judges Association from 2009 to 2011, and he was appointed as a special mediator for the City of Detroit’s bankruptcy proceeding from 2013 to 2015.
In recognition of his lifelong commitment to diversity and inclusiveness within the legal profession, Judge Daniel actively participated in bar and civic organizations that emphasize diversity and inclusion in the legal profession and focused on the importance of mentoring children and young adults. He served on the boards of Denver Kids Inc., AMIkids, Inc., Denver Children’s Choir, and The Center for African American Health. He also taught courses in trial advocacy as an adjunct professor at the University of Colorado School of Law and the University of Denver Sturm College of Law.
Judge Daniel was a devoted and loving husband, father grandfather, and uncle. He is survived by his beloved wife of 48 years, Ida, and and their three daughters.
Distinguished Judicial Leadership Award: Judge Marcia S. Krieger, U.S. District Court, District of Colorado. Nominated to the U.S. District Court of Colorado in 2001, Marcia Krieger was confirmed and served from 2002 until her transition to senior status this year having served as only the second woman to serve on this court and the first female chief judge from 2013-2019. Prior to this appointment, in 1994, she became the second woman and the youngest judge to serve on the U.S. Bankruptcy Court. A third-generation Coloradan, she graduated from both the University of Colorado Law School in 1979 and the Lewis & Clark College. Upon earning her JD, she was an accomplished attorney practicing for over 15 years, specializing in commercial and bankruptcy litigation.
Krieger’s contributions extend well beyond the courtroom. She has been involved with numerous state and federal bench and bar associations including serving on the board of the Colorado Judicial Institute. One of her most notable achievements was as the co-founder of “Our Courts”, a civic educational collaborative project of CJI and the Colorado Bar Association that provides impartial information about how the legal system works. Since 2007, trained volunteer speakers have presented over 550 presentations to well over 14,000 people in both Spanish and English. Additional accomplishments include JHealth and Judge Share, both programs that assist federal judges on aging issues and assist the federal judicial system on their heavy caseloads, respectively. Finally, she is a co-author of two books International Insolvency and The Women’s Legal Guide as well as numerous articles in legal publications.
Magistrate Award: Magistrate Matthew R. Zehe, 8th Judicial District, Larimer County. Magistrate Zehe has served as a magistrate for the Eighth Judicial District of Colorado since November, 2006. He currently presides over the juvenile delinquency docket and the juvenile recovery court. In 2008, he started, and still presides over, the District’s DUI recovery court. Magistrate Zehe also served as an attorney for the Colorado State Public Defender’s Office from December, 1995, to October, 2006. He graduated from Indiana University in 1991 with a degree in Philosophy and earned his J.D. from the University of Denver in 1995.
County Court Judge Award: County Court Judge Olympia Z. Fay, 2nd Judicial District, Denver County. Judge Fay was appointed to the Denver County Court in January 2015. Judge Fay received her Bachelor of Arts in History from Lenoir-Rhyne University in 1999 and earned her law degree from the University of Denver Sturm College of Law in 2007. Prior to her appointment, Judge Fay served as a Denver Assistant City Attorney in the civil litigation section. Before joining the City Attorney’s office, she served as a Deputy District Attorney in the 20th Judicial District and worked as a private attorney at Holme, Roberts, & Owen and Davis, Graham, & Stubbs. Judge Fay is a faculty member and advisor with the National Institute for Trial Advocacy and is active in the Sam Cary Bar Association, the Colorado Women’s Bar Association, the Colorado Bar Association, the Denver Bar Association, the American Bar Association, and the Colorado LGBT Bar Association. Judge Fay is also the Chair of the Denver County Court Resource Committee, where she was tasked with reorganization of the court to better serve the Denver community. She volunteers for various high school and college moot court competitions.
District Court Judge Award: District Court Judge Timothy J. Schutz, 4th Judicial District, El Paso County. Judge Schutz was appointed to the El Paso County District Court in 2010. He received his undergraduate degree from Moorhead State University in 1984 in Psychology and Political Science. Judge Schutz graduated from the University of North Dakota law school in 1987. After law school, Judge Schutz was in private practice in Colorado Springs concentrating his practice in the areas of civil litigation, intellectual property and in the resolution of land use disputes. Judge Schutz served as President of the El Paso County Bar Association in 2004. He has been a member of the Board of Directors of the Colorado Legal Aid Foundation and served on the Judicial Performance Commission. Additionally, he has been involved with the Pikes Peak Pro Bono Project, the Access to Justice Commission, American Inns of Court, and volunteers with Habitat for Humanity. Judge Schutz is currently serving on the statewide Access to Justice Commission and is a co-chair of the Minority Overrepresentation Committee of the Fourth Judicial District.
Bob Ewegen, who retired from The Denver Post in 2008 after more than 36 years at the newspaper, is CJI Journalist in Residence and an emeritus member of the CJI board.