Academics and Research / News

Here come the judges, Supreme Court hears case on campus

The Colorado Supreme Court is coming to the University of Denver Jan. 20 to hear two cases at the Sturm College of Law as part of the court’s annual outreach program.

Among the cases will be one that law professor Don Smith says experts are calling the “Colorado water law case of the century.” It’s known as the Burlington Ditch case and involves a change of water flow and storage rights that date back to an 1885 agreement with the Burlington Ditch, Reservoir and Land Co., which provided water to farmers northeast of Denver.

A separate case involves the appeal of a man convicted of leaving the scene of an accident. His attorneys argue he never left the scene, he even gave his information to police at the scene, but he just didn’t volunteer that he had been the driver.

Court officials stress that these are not mock trials. The two hearings are real Supreme Court hearings before the full court and will have real bearing on Colorado law.

The visit is part of an emphasis by the Colorado Judicial Branch on public outreach and education and an extension of the 25-year-old Courts in the Community program. Through the program, the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals visit high schools and colleges around Colorado to hear arguments in actual cases.

“I think all of us on the bench believe trust and confidence in our court system depends very much on public understanding of what the courts do every day and how they do it,” says Chief Justice Michael Bender. “Getting the appellate courts out in the community for a real hearing like this is not only a breath of fresh air for us, it helps further that goal. It introduces more of Colorado’s residents to the people behind the bench in their courts, and helps them learn more about what we do and what the rule of law means to us in our daily jobs.”

Martin Katz, dean of the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law, says having the court conduct official business on campus provides a valuable experience for students, who are expected to pack the law school’s courtroom.

“I am very excited and honored to welcome the court to [Sturm],” Katz says. “This is an excellent opportunity for our students to see top-flight lawyering in our state’s highest court and for our school to be involved in the big issues of the day.”

Smith says students are going to see a water case that will have long-reaching ramifications.

“The setting of oral arguments in this important case at the College of Law will provide DU students, faculty, and friends an excellent opportunity to hear this historic case,” Smith says. “In one measure of the importance of the case, the Supreme Court has provided for a 90-minute argument rather than its more typical 30 or 45 minutes.”

The event will begin with a greeting at 8:20 a.m. in room 165 of the law school. The public and students are invited to attend.


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