Judicial Center embodies Ralph Carr’s ideals

Special to The Colorado Statesman

A constellation of Colorado’s legal and political stars gathered Thursday to dedicate a $258 million monument to justice named after a former governor who sacrificed his political career rather than betray the rule of law.

The Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center is a 695,767 square-foot edifice that houses the Colorado Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, Supreme Court Law Library, the State Court Administrator, the Colorado Attorney General and the Colorado Public Defender. It was designed by Fentress Architects and built by Mortenson Construction to last for at least a century and, with proper maintenance, for twice that time. But Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Bender, Gov. John Hickenlooper and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor all expressed the conviction that the ideals of justice embodied by the building’s namesake would endure far longer than even this new temple of justice.

“This building is a monument to the rule of law, a museum to the rule of law, and a modern, efficient courtroom,” Bender told an audience that packed the Judicial Center’s four-story atrium and its surrounding balconies. The chief justice said it was fitting to name it after Carr because: “He was the only person of any political stature to stand up for those unjustly interned – at the cost of his political career.”

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor was in Denver for the dedication of the new Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center.
Pool photo by RJ Sangosti /The Denver Post

Carr, a Republican, was the 19th governor of Colorado, serving from 1939 to 1943. That meant he was in office when the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt decided to forcibly resettle residents of Japanese descent from the West Coast to a camp at Amache near Granada, Colorado. The forced relocation included many second-generation residents known as Nisei, who were U. S. citizens by virtue of being born in this country.

While many politicians pandered to the anti-Japanese hysteria whipped up by such sources as the wildly zenophobic Denver Post, Carr stood up for Americans of Japanese descent.

“The Japanese are protected by the same constitution that protects us. They have the same rights as we have. They are protected by the same courts that protect us. If you harm them, you must harm me. I was brought up in a small town where I knew the shame and dishonor of race hatred. I grew to despise it because it threatened the happiness of you and you and you,” he said in one famous speech.

Carr paid a political price for his courage, narrowly losing the U.S. Senate race to Democrat Edwin C. Johnson in 1942 though Republicans swept most other statewide offices. But his memory was honored in 2008 when then-Gov. Bill Ritter signed Senate Bill 206 by Sens. Brandon Shaffer and Josh Penry and Reps. Terrance Carroll and Don Marostica authorizing a new state judicial complex Denver to be named the Ralph L. Carr Justice Center, occupying the entire block between 13th and 14th Avenues and Broadway and Lincoln Street.

That site was shared by the old Supreme Court building and the Colorado History Museum, aging structures that Ritter said were “inadequate the day they were built.” The site was torn down and the history museum was relocated to a new 200,000 square-foot facility a block south of the site.

Around 800 people filled the new Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center to hear Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor speak during a dedication of the new center, May 02, 2013.
Pool photo by RJ Sangosti /The Denver Post

Thursday’s ceremonies attracted Colorado’s political and legal elite, including five of six current or former chief executives: Gov. John Hickenlooper and former governors Bill Ritter, Bill Owens, Roy Romer and Richard Lamm. Only former Gov. John Vanderhoof was unable to attend.

Former Denver Mayor Federico Peña and current Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, Colorado Attorney General John Suthers, Secretary of State Scott Gessler, Senate President John Morse, House Speaker Mark Ferrandino and U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette also gathered to pay honor to Carr and Colorado’s legal system.

Other notable attendees included former U.S. Rep. David Skaggs and the dean of Colorado Democrats, former U.S. Sen. Gary Hart. Virtually the entire seven-member Colorado Supreme Court and the 22 members of the Colorado Court of Appeals were on hand, as were many other prominent judges and lawyers. Also present and beaming with a “mission accomplished” smile was former Chief Justice Mary Mullarkey, whose vision and energy did more than anyone else to bring the new Judicial Center into being.

But even this illustrious gathering was overshadowed by one exemplar of living history a woman sitting quietly with proud dignity — who brought the crowd to its feet in a standing ovation when Hickenlooper pointed her out as a Nisei who had been unjustly interned in the very roundup of Japanese Americans Carr had so nobly protested.

After Bender’s and Hickenlooper’s remarks, Justice Sotomayor — who earlier carried out a heartfelt conversation with Colorado students described in an accompaning story in this week’s Colorado Statesman — compared Colorado’s new Judicial Center with “my court” — the 85 year-old U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington. In both institutions, she said the architectural grandeur makes even the most powerful person feel humbled before the majesty of the law. She said Colorado’s new building “conveys the same sense of gravity that the Supreme Court does in Washington. Courts uphold the rule of law and their physical space needs to impress upon people the majesty of the law.”

Sotomoyer also highlighted the view from the broad picture windows on the northeast corner of the third and fourth floor of the Judicial Center — from which viewers get a splendid look at the state Capitol building and its gold dome just catty-corner across the street that houses both the governor’s office and the General Assembly. The parallelism “perfectly shows the separation of powers between the executive, legislative and judicial branches that is fundamental to the Colorado and U.S. Constitutions,” she noted, adding that the close proximity between both the U.S. and Colorado Supreme Courts with their respective centers of legislative and executive power “reminds citizens that these co-equal branches of government must face off and keep each other in check.”

“You have invested in your future, you should be very proud of yourselves,” Sotomayor congratulated Coloradans.

As it happens, that investment turned out to be almost perfectly timed. Court spokesman Rob McCallum noted that building the new Judicial Center during a recession helped lower both the cost of borrowing and of construction. The project was managed by Trammel Crow Company and financed through two Certificates of Participation [a kind of mortgage], Build America Bonds and on-hand cash outlays. The project was paid for through court fees and reallocated rent revenues from state agencies that otherwise would have been paid to private sector office buildings. The project is credited with creating 2,000 direct and 1,000 indirect jobs, thus helping stimulate the Colorado economy at a time when it needed that help.

The Judicial Center totals 695,767 square feet. It features a four-story courthouse with 204,814 square feet that includes one courtroom for the Colorado Supreme Court, two courtrooms for the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court Law Library and a 3,800 square foot interactive educational civics learning center. This advanced learning center lets students of all ages enter, pick a case, find the rules of law that apply to it, and reach a “ruling” on the issue.

The 12-story office building con-nected to the courthouse totals 490,953 square feet with an 11,500 square-foot conference center and a 2,000 square-foot data center. It houses the Attorney General’s office, Public Defender’s office and other law-related activities.

The Judicial Center was designed with both an updated neoclassical architecture traditionally associated with courthouses and modern design elements that complement the traditional look of the state Capitol building and the contemporary nature of its other cross-street neighbor, the Denver Central Library.

In keeping with the 1977 Art in Public Places Act that requires one percent of capital construction funds for new or remodeled state builds be spent on works of art, the center includes ten major art pieces throughout the site.
The Judicial Center is rated as 30 percent more energy efficient than current standards require and is on track to achieve LEED certification, making it one of the few courthouses in the nation to be awarded this coveted “green” status.

Bob Ewegen logged 45 years in journalism before retiring from The Denver Post in 2008. Now a certified paralegal, he is director of research and communications at The Ewegen Law Firm headed by his daughter, Misty Ewegen.