Denver Bar Association
January 2005
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Eternal Sunshine or Kapelke's Mind

by Diane Hartman

Editor's note: This is an exit interview with Hon. Robert Kapelke, who used to be the main reason anyone read The Docket. We are honored, your honor, that you agreed to answer these silly questions, and hope this sop will convince you to rejoin the committee.

Question: Did you dream of being a judge when you were a little kid? What did you think judges did?

Answer: I’d rather not talk about that dream. I thought judges just yelled at people and put them in jail. Turned out I was just half right.

Q: Who put this notion in your head?

A: It might have been that movie about Roy Bean, but maybe that came later. My memory is not what it used to be, as best I recall.

Q: Did you also want to be king?

A: I didn’t feel I could aim higher than joker.

Q: Did you learn to write with a quill?

A: No. When we moved into the neighborhood, the porcupines moved out.

Judge Kapelke with Joel Judd in earlier years.

Q: Do you have a naked Lady Justice in your office?

A: No. She left about five minutes ago. (She seemed a bit unbalanced).

Q: You’re known as a funny lawyer. Why weren’t your opinions funny??

A: Your premise is fundamentally flawed. My opinions have been consistently described as "ludicrous."

Q: Did being on the Court of Appeals stifle your wit or make it better, outside the court?

A: It reduced it by half.

Q: Did your tastes change as a judge—so that you would re-read Bleak House, etc. over and over, or only order escargot at fancy restaurants? Did you start spelling it "theatre?" Did you tip only ironed five dollar bills? Did you learn to mince? After each order, did you say, ‘so, there.’" How about "lahhhh de dah?" What did you start watching on TV? Could you stand "Law and Order"? Or did you watch war movies? Did you get a yen for white wigs? Victoria’s Secret? Do you have higher ambitions? Do you watch "West Wing" and what do you think of it?

A: Are you Virginia Woolf or are you just on speed?

Q: Who were your very favorite lawyers to watch/listen to in court and why?

A: There are really too many to mention, but in my salad days at the bar, among the lawyers I loved to see in action were Bill Steele, Fred Winner, Bill Erickson, Dan Hoffman, Bill Ris, and Fred Dickerson.

Q: What’s the reason you’re glad to leave and what’s the reason you’re sorry to leave?

A: I won’t miss the daily commute, especially in the winter. I truly will miss being with my wonderful colleagues on a daily basis.

Q: Is there a club of Court of Appeals judges who have left the bench and still thrive and prosper?

A: If there is, they haven’t invited me to join. I do believe Alan Sternberg has already made some tee times for us, though.

Q: Speaking of that, WHAT WILL YOU BE DOING and can we announce that in the story?

A: I hope to continue working as a Senior Judge and also to be involved in some arbitration and mediation work. Plans are not definite yet. In the meantime, does your walk need shoveling?

Q: Do you remember when Phil Dufford said he got lonesome on the CoA? Did you?

A: I recall Phil saying that. Frankly, I haven’t felt all that lonely. That’s probably because the voices are always with me.

Q: Do you still have the same friends or did you drop people abruptly when you rose to power?

A: What power? Besides, I had no one to drop.

Q: Is there an unwritten etiquette on the court and could you please spill the beans?

A: Yes, and I’d be happy to. 1) Never, ever, ever use a footnote in an opinion; and 2) Never forget to bring the doughnuts on Friday when it’s your turn.

Q: As you leave the hallowed halls, trailing clouds of glory, what would you like to say?

A: I’m sure going to miss those doughnuts.


Q: What judges did you admire while you were practicing?

A: My old mentor Judge Arraj immediately springs to mind, as do Judges Doyle and Matsch, but I actually admired most judges I practiced before except . . . well, you know who you are! I used to admire Leonard Plank until the April Fool’s Day he grabbed me in the hall of the City and County Building and appointed me in a nasty criminal case.

Q: What would you tell young/old lawyers prior to writing a brief or arguing in court, if you could be TOTALLY candid?

A: I would tell them to settle the case before they get here. But if it’s too late for that, I would tell them to be concise and precise, focus on their strong points, and come to grips with the weaknesses in their position. And, oh yes, I’d tell them to be TOTALLY candid.

Q: If you could wave a wand, what lawyers or lawyer’s trait would be banished to Elba?

A: Ad hominem attacks, you idiot!

Q: If you could change one law or rule of procedure, what would it be?

A: I would shorten the Rule Against Perpetuities to "lives in being" plus only 18 years.

Q: What comedians, authors, do you like?

A: I like Stephen Wright, W.C. Fields, the Marx Brothers, and Woody Allen. By the way, what are authors?

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