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CCDC CIVIL RIGHTS LEGAL PROGRAM DIRECTOR’S VIEWS ABOUT THE INCREDIBLE LOSS OF THE HONORABLE WILEY Y. DANIEL, SENIOR DISTRICT COURT JUDGE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT OF COLORADO

We lost a great judge. We lost a great person. Senior District Court Judge Wiley Y. Daniel passed away on May 10, 2019. All of the lawyers and their clients who have brought cases in the United States District Court of Colorado before Judge Daniel and all of those lawyers and their clients who could’ve brought cases before Judge Daniel will never be the same. The author of this blog has practiced law in this district for 22 years (in three days it will be 23 years), and I have had the great privilege of practicing before Judge Daniel on numerous occasions. Not enough, but several. He was different in many ways, all of them good.

I certainly do not mean any disrespect to any of the judges in front of whom I have practiced before. Or to any of those in front of whom I currently practice. And it would be inappropriate to comment publicly about judges before whom I might practice. But I must say this: Judge Daniel has always been my favorite. There are too many reasons to list in a blog, but I will do my best to hit the highlights. I want you to know. I feel a great sadness that I will no longer have the fortune to practice before this great judge and great human being ever again. I feel a great sadness that he is no longer with us.

All practicing lawyers, especially those like me who practice in a particular area (in my case, disability rights law as an individual who uses a motorized wheelchair) probably have certain judges they might prefer. They might prefer those judges because, for those of us who practice in federal court, we practice before judges who are nominated by the President of the United States who are then confirmed by the United States Senate; some of us might believe (and some of us do believe) that those political affiliations will color the opinions, attitudes and judgments of our judges. Some practicing lawyers simply might not like the personality of a particular judge. I remember well a particular judge whom most lawyers I know feared yet I never did because I found the particular judge to be fair even though the judge was known for being temperamental, disagreeable and for having a generally antagonistic personality. Some practicing lawyers might dislike a certain judge because that judge opposed the lawyer on a case when the judge was still practicing and had not yet been appointed and confirmed to the bench. There are many reasons why some practicing lawyers don’t like certain judges.

But some judges are just likable no matter what. In this practicing lawyer’s opinion, Judge Daniel was that kind of judge.

As many of you know, in civil practice, lawyers do not go to trial on many cases; nevertheless, we do have many legal arguments we must make before judges regularly in many of our cases. I and my co-counsel had the pleasure of arguing cases before Judge Daniel several times. Judge Daniel was simply different.

One of the most important differences is that Judge Daniel was about “telling it like it is.” This is a theme that describes everything good I have ever felt about him.

The Guidepost: Judge Daniel told it like it was the moment he entered the courtroom, and we heard, “All rise!” We knew that what was coming was going to be the straightforward, simple, plainspoken truth. Often, Judge Daniel would begin a hearing with a statement something like the following: “I have just a couple of comments before we begin.” Or, “Here is what we are going to do today, and here is what we are not going to do today.” These guideposts always told the parties where he was coming from and where he wanted us to go. Even though I don’t believe I have ever practiced before a fairer judge, Judge Daniel made his brief comments (1) to let us all know he knew the history of the case inside and out;[1] (2) this is what the proceeding was about; (3) this was where his interests for the course of the proceeding were;  and (4) we had better follow them because otherwise we were wasting time. A guidepost from the Court is something a practicing lawyer (no matter how many years we have been at it) is very thankful for when entering the courtroom. Judge Daniel told us what he wanted, why he wanted it and why it wasn’t worth bothering doing anything else.

Fairness. Even though Judge Daniel gave us all the guidepost on his way into the hearing, he never failed to make sure the lawyer who might not have received the telegraphed message during the guidepost commentary had the opportunity to make the lawyer’s client’s case. The record was always clear. Both sides would have the opportunity to make all of their arguments before one of them was reminded of the rules set forth in the guidepost. He also found it very important to treat every lawyer and client with the greatest amount of respect. I never saw or heard Judge Daniel be unkind or derogatory in the slightest way to anyone. I also always found him to be very accommodating for attorneys with disabilities and our clients who have disabilities. He did so without even thinking about it. It was just a natural part of who he was and how he understood his role in the “people’s courthouse.”

Writing: I love reading Judge Daniel’s orders. Short, brief, simple and straight-to-the-point sentences. No words wasted. Everything there that needed to be was. Nothing that did not. Looking back over his orders in our cases, he usually cited to one case for legal authority instead of some long, unnecessary string cite. Why bother, when one case will do? He wrote like he talked: He told it like it was.[2]

There are so many other reasons why some other practicing lawyers including myself may have really had great respect for Judge Daniel.

He was the first African-American[3] judge appointed to the United States District Court of Colorado, appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1995. He was born on September 10, 1946, in Louisville Kentucky. He also attended Howard University both as an undergraduate, receiving his Bachelor’s Degree in 1968 and his Juris Doctor Degree in 1971. Howard University is the alma mater of one of my heroes, United States Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall after Justice Marshall was denied admission to the University of Maryland College of Law in 1930 because he was Black.

In 2017, the Center for Legal Inclusiveness presented Judge Daniel with The Lifetime Achievement Award. I think many of the reasons why I greatly respect, like and will miss Judge Daniel are best summed up here in his own words and in his own voice:

Click Here for Captioned YouTube Video of the Honorable Wiley Y. Daniel

Despite the fact that the United States District Court was established in 1876, the only other Black judge appointed to the United States District Court of Colorado is Raymond Moore. Judge Moore was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2013.

[1] He once said in one of our hearings in a case that happened about 4 1/2 years after the case started and every motion a lawyer could dream of was filed in the case (I won’t say by whom): “Unfortunately, even though I’m a Senior Judge, my memory is just as good as before. What can I say, it’s a blessing, but also a curse, sometimes.” Either way, it was always true. He knew the case. We did not have to worry about that.

[2] A typical sentence look like this: “I disagree with this assertion for the reasons stated above.” “I find this argument an attempt by Defendants to re-litigate Plaintiffs’ standing.” “The named Plaintiffs have suffered and will suffer in the future if the Elevated Entrances are not removed.” Maybe that is why Judge Daniel’s Practice Standards warned lawyers like me, “Excessive or prolix statement of facts sections will be STRICKEN.” The bolding appears in his Practice Standards. Why bother using something like “exceedingly and superfluous” when you can simply say “prolix?”

[3] I generally use the word “Black” instead of the word “African-American” even though I know that different individuals prefer different terms, which is why I use the term “African-American” here because it is the term the judge Daniel used. I have been corrected by many friends and colleagues when I have referred to them as “African-American.”  They have explained to me just as I am considered “White,” they are considered “Black.” I have been corrected by friends and colleagues that do not feel as though they are “African-American” because they have no connection to the country of Africa. This makes sense to me since I too was born in this country and many of my ancestors were as well; I don’t feel connected to any other country except America and yet my race is described as “White” or sometimes as “Caucasian,” not as “Welsh-American” or “German American.”


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