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Colorado’s high court convenes in Glenwood’s high school

Greg Masse

Young students caught a supremely rare glimpse Wednesday into the inner workings of the state’s highest court.

As it does twice yearly, the Colorado Supreme Court traveled out of its regular digs in Denver and listened to genuine oral arguments on two pending Supreme Court cases.

The arguments were given on the stage of the Glenwood Springs High School auditorium. The Supreme Court’s appearance in Glenwood Springs was the first in 10 years and only the second ever.

Students from high schools in Glenwood Springs, Basalt, Carbondale, Meeker, Rifle, Aspen and Rangely attended the rare judicial event.

The seven justices listened to the real oral arguments from two cases: The Denver Publishing Company dba Rocky Mountain News v. Manuel Edward “Eddie” Bueno, and David Cooper and Michael Cooper v. The Aspen Valley Ski Club and John McBride, Jr.

The first case was originally filed against the Rocky Mountain News stemming from an article written by reporter Ann Carnahan in August 1994. The story was about the Bueno family, a large and well-known crime family in Denver.

In the lawsuit, Eddie Bueno, who distanced himself from the rest of the family for most of his life, claimed the reporter unlawfully included a picture and various statements about him and his brothers in the article, insinuating that he was part of the criminal activity that occurred in his family.

He sued the News for invasion of privacy by publication of private facts, negligence, defamation and invasion of privacy by false light.

Each of the claims was dropped in trial court except for the false light claim, which Bueno won.

The News’ motion for rehearing in the Colorado Court of Appeals was rejected, so in 2001, the News requested review by the Colorado Supreme Court, which was granted.

The second case revolves around a liability waiver signed by the parent of a minor so he could participate on a ski team.

The minor, then-17-year-old David Cooper, was training for competitive super G racing on Aspen Mountain on a course set by his coach, John McBride, a paid professional coach, in December 1995. Cooper fell while skiing the course and collided with a tree, causing severe injuries, including being permanently blinded.

At issue is whether the waiver signed by Cooper’s mother barred David Cooper from filing a claim for his injuries once he turned 18. In trial court, it was ruled that the release barred Cooper from making any negligence claims against McBride or the ski club.

The Coopers appealed the decision, but the appeals court upheld the trial court’s decision, so they went to the supreme court.

No decisions were made Wednesday, as there is much more to be done on each case. Rulings are expected in three to six months, said Karen Salaz, communications coordinator for the office of State Court Administrator.

“It’ll probably be after the summer break,” she said.

Students were allowed to ask questions of the attorneys on both sides immediately after the oral arguments for each case. Then, after both oral arguments were complete and the attorney question and answer sessions were over, the students were able to ask questions of the justices.

The Colorado Supreme Court is comprised of Chief Justice Mary Mullarkey and justices Rebecca Love Kourlis, Gregory Hobbs Jr., Alex Martinez, Michael Bender, Nancy Rice and Nathan B. Coats.

The first person to question the justices was an older man with a thick, bushy beard. He complained that he has some issues he’s been trying to get in front of a court and asked why he kept getting pushed aside.

He told the group of justices the FBI, police and courts won’t listen to him. Justice Hobbs said that the program was meant to be an educational program for students, but the man persisted until police moved in and asked him to leave.

The rest of the questions were asked by students.

One student asked how the high court comes to a ruling. A justice answered that it takes careful consideration, as well as knowledge of statutory commands.

Another student asked how cases are selected.

“We only look at the cases people ask us to,” Mullarkey said. “We try to pick the cases that we perceive to be important.”

The student also asked if it would be more fair for an outside body to choose the cases rather than having the court itself choose.

“I don’t think that would work,” Mullarkey replied. “We have the advantage because we’re closest to the cases.”

Another student asked how many cases are overturned. Surprisingly, the justices said they overturn around half of all the cases they hear.

“We don’t take the case unless we feel there was an important aspect of law involved,” Justice Hobbs said.

The last question was about questions themselves. A girl asked if they get many questions during their traveling court dates.

Justice Nancy Rice said they always get questions, but the types of questions vary.

“Sometimes they want to know about the process. … In Brighton, they asked us what kinds of cars we drive,” she said.

With the question brought up, each justice revealed the type of automobiles they drive. The tally: A Subaru, a Saab, two Jeeps, a Grand Prix, a Pathfinder and a Honda CRV.


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