Denver Bar Association
July 1999
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Hubert FarbesTakes Us to 2000

by Diane Hartman

Hubert A. Farbes, Jr., new president of the Denver Bar Association and a partner at Brownstein, Hyatt & Farber, makes going to Yale sound pretty close to Heaven. It was there he met Bill and Hillary Clinton— but more important to him, he got to hang around some great minds and be a part of intense intellectual discussions.
It was a long way from his birthplace of Okmulgee, Oklahoma. Hubert was born into a “big black Catholic community” in 1948. His father’s side of the family was French-speaking Creole, and he grew up on gumbo at his grandmother’s house. His mother’s parents were the children of slaves, but both grandparents graduated from college at Langston University in Oklahoma. He still thinks about the influence of his maternal grandfather: “He was the epitome of a wise man; he taught me to be thoughtful and considered in how I did things. He impressed upon me the importance of working toward success even if other people didn’t believe I could succeed. He lived in a racist society and he was self-sufficient.” Hubert named his only son after him.
Hubert integrated his high school in Oklahoma City. “My first memory of that school is at a pep rally. There were 1,800 kids and three blacks. As we walked in, the chant went up: ‘Two, four, six, eight, we don’t want to integrate.’” Going there was a “burdensome experience,” he said, “but on balance it was good practice for the rest of the world. It probably served me well.” He was active in speech, debate and drama. During those years, he was both state and national champion in Original Oratory, a National Merit Scholarship Semifinalist and a National Achievement Scholar. Hubert was recruited by Grinnell College, a small liberal arts college in Iowa. His four-year scholarship covered much of the cost. “It was great for me. I was a kid from a small town. It allowed me to develop slowly. There were some really great minds. They took an interest in me. I remain convinced that because I was there, they got me into Yale.” At Grinnell, he was allowed to be “a little schizophrenic,” he said, in a classic Farbes understatement. He abolished all military drill as ROTC Commander, and “called upon my SDS (the then-radical Students for Democratic Society) friends to have interaction between the anti-war factions and those in ROTC.” At graduation, he got a military award and “it was a great pleasure of mine that some people didn’t know until the graduation ceremony I was in ROTC.” Between his junior and senior year, he had to go to boot camp at the Air Force Academy (his first experience with Colorado). He was the only black person out of 3,000 cadets. One of the biggest prejudices he ran into was “that I went to a hippie college.” The five weeks focused on physical exercise and ended in a tracking expedition into the wilderness. Hubert was one of the top three cadets. “I was used to doing what I needed to do, not relying on others. So others could rely on me. Once we got beyond the unfamiliarity of not knowing anyone, you bond on what you could show.” At the end of camp, he was pretty comfortable. “If I had been offered a military assignment then, I probably would have gone.” His professors at Grinnell encouraged him in the direction of law school. He applied and got into Yale, where he was accepted into the community there. “Some of the crustiest, sour-looking curmudgeons turned out to be the nicest people to me.” Some Yale memories include: Being one of the principal organizers of the Workshop in Urban Legal Problems at Yale, where they used their legal training to identify and develop “project” concepts to improve the plight of New Haven’s poor. “We organized the City’s first independent health care center, originally funded by federal money, but which ultimately became self-sustaining.” And: “I was there for May Day when Jerry Ruben and Abbie Hoffman (leaders of the Yippies) shut the city down. City businessmen hired the Hell’s Angels to keep the peace. It was a wild time. The black law students volunteered to give legal aid to people in need. I worked the New Haven Green during that weekend. We heard they might bring in the National Guard; rumors were flying. But the police chief of New Haven, a Yale grad, said no cop could carry a firearm. When my wife picked me up, all the streets were shut off and we had to go way out and come back into the city. I still remember driving up a hill and seeing this glint in the trees. I could see the turret of a tank. There were at least 500 National Guardsmen, fully armed, sitting in and around the tanks. We drove right by them. When we got home, I tried to call everybody. It could have been a massacre, but nothing happened. It was my first insight into politics— all this rhetoric, and then reality.” He got to know the Clintons: “I knew Hillary a little bit. I had some cases with her while she was still at the Rose law firm. She was always confident but so quiet. I am astonished at what she turned into.” He got to know Bill Clinton well after law school when Clinton would come to Colorado to campaign and stay with Jim Lyons. “I spent a lot of time talking to him. He must get three hours of sleep a day. He gets up talking, goes to bed talking, while you’re ready to die you’re so tired. He’s a brilliant political tactition.” The Clintons “are both extraordinarily smart people. She was number one in my class (1972). He was number one in the class of 1973.” Hubert took a class with both of them under Yale Dean Guido Calabresi called “Controlling Progress.” “The dean told the students that he named it that because the ‘people in this room are the future congresspeople and maybe even a president of the United States, and I intend to mold their view of public policy, and thereby progress.’ ” Hubert commented: “He meant it as a joke, I think, but it rings ironic today.” Lani Guinier and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas were both members of the class of ’74. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich was in Hubert’s class. But, “the people I was the most impressed with were the professors, even more so than my classmates who are now in the news.” Hubert ticked off names of people highly influential in law and government: “It was astounding the national and international figures you could talk to and got to deal with . . . you got to hear the things they were talking and thinking about. It was incredible.” Hubert came to Lowry Air Force Base to finish his military commitment—a change from his heady experiences at Yale. After the service, he worked in Denver as an assistant attorney general, first assistant attorney general, then went into private practice. He’s been with Brownstein Hyatt since 1994.


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