Denver Bar Association
April 2007
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Docket Celebrates 100th Anniversary

by Marshall Snider

Editor’s Note: How time flies! It is hard for us to grasp how much has happened since The Docket was first published 1907. In honor of this historic achievement, current committee member Marshall Snider dug into The Docket annals to research this article, a nearly precise account of how this fine publication came to be.

Denver residents in the winter of 1907 enjoyed the mild weather that makes it a privilege to live in Colorado. Little snow fell on the Front Range that year and citizens spent time outdoors enjoying Denver’s parks, playing tennis and lawn bowling. In the high country, it was a different story. Massive snowfalls allowed the locals to make ample use of the mule-drawn T-bars on Loveland and Berthoud passes, and the ski season set a record for the most mule passes ever sold.

Jebediah Eley

That same winter a group of Denver lawyers thought about how they could better communicate with their colleagues on matters of mutual interest. Telephones were not much in use in those days, the mail was slow and couriers on horseback were used to move legal papers around town. Lawyers officed in the vicinity of the old courthouse on Court Place, but a court appearance in an adjoining county involved a lengthy and arduous trip. Horse-drawn trolleys to Littleton or Golden were infrequent and slow, and a journey to Brighton for a 30-minute hearing required packing a lunch and an extra set of long underwear.

It was in this climate of limited communication that a few members of the Denver Bar Association met at Duffy’s Tavern to look for a better way to share ideas with their colleagues. Although the passage of time has obscured the details of that meeting, legend persists that it was prominent Denver attorney Jebediah Eley who proposed that the DBA should produce its own newspaper. Eley’s idea was to publish a broadsheet with news of happenings in the courts, as well as articles that would assist lawyers in their practices, and to distribute the publication in

Elijah McQuiston

the courthouse.

The records of that meeting are faded and hard to read (for anyone who is interested, the notes of scrivener Elijah McQuiston are currently on display under glass in the lobby of the DBA office), but it appears that Eley’s idea was enthusiastically embraced. Elspeth Hooker was one of the few women in the Denver Bar at the time, having earned her law degree back East somewhere, where women were making greater inroads into the profession. Hooker suggested that the new publication should run articles regarding law office management. With law firms now having as many as four attorneys, the need to find more efficient ways of organizing the work of the office was becoming a major issue in the profession.

Horatio Ott

Philander Turner thought that the publication should contain either poetry or humorous articles; he wasn’t sure which, but Turner told the group he would think about it. Horatio Ott, who had moonlighted as the editorial cartoonist for the Rocky Mountain News since 1856, agreed to provide sketches of DBA meetings. At the time, these meetings were held in various local taverns. It was later discovered that Ott received a kickback from the tavern owners for prominently displaying the names of their establishments in his sketches.

In 1907, the Denver cultural scene was on the upswing. Operas, plays, concerts and art exhibits were constantly touring from back East, and homegrown talent was beginning to emerge. So it was that DBA member Immanual Rawlings, well respected as the most cultured man in the Denver Bar (usually the bar at the Brown Palace Hotel, but that’s another story) volunteered to review the local arts scene. There was much debate over this

 Immanual Rawlings

suggestion. Several members thought that the publication should be confined to purely legal matters, while other voted for a broader coverage. The debate raged for many years, and it was not until 1944 that Rawlings was permitted to write his first cultural review for the DBA (inexplicably, he panned Peter Lorre’s performance in Arsenic and Old Lace).

Even though there was debate over the nature of the contents, the group was unanimous that the DBA should go forward with this publication. But what to call it? Matthias Crouch suggested The Woolsack, which was the platform on which early English jurists sat, but someone pointed out that there might be copyright problems with that name (a lawyer in the northern kingdom of Boulder was already using that name on his combination law office and grog shop). Victoria Nierenz (another of the few women lawyers in town, named after England’s Queen Victoria, as were 87.3 percent of the women of that era) suggested calling it the Lawyers’ Weekly. This idea was not well-received in light of the fact that the plan was to publish only three times a year (four times in leap years). Maliciah Snider (no relation) thought the name Legal Affairs might be appropriate, but this proposal was vetoed by several of the members who were in fact engaged in not-so-legal affairs.

 August Viorst

Finally, August Viorst, scion of a prominent literary family in the nation’s capitol, came up with the idea of calling this broadsheet The Docket, cleverly taking the title from the name of the daily calendar of court cases. No one liked this idea and eventually, at the suggestion of Lucius Ginsburg, the paper was christened The Denver Bar Newspaper, with a slogan that read: "Dishing it Out Since 1907." It was not until 1930 that DBA president Declan Walker, inspired by the depression, changed the name to The Docket.

And that is how The Docket came to be. Because of the foresight of a small group of men and women high on laudanum in 1907, DBA members today can enjoy this primary benefit of bar association membership. We should all give a tip of our bowlers to these visionary leaders before wrapping the leftovers of our lunch in this month’s issue.

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