Denver Bar Association
September 2007
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7 Questions with Judge Deanell Reece Tacha on the American Inns of Court

by Matthew Crouch

Hon. Deanell Tacha is the Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit and the president of the American Inns of Court. Her career in the law started as a White House Fellow in 1971 upon graduation from the University of Michigan Law School. While her law career started in the 1970s, Judge Tacha’s passion for the American Inns of Court (AIC) began when she became a judge in the late 1980s. Her zeal to help lawyers raise themselves to a higher level of civility, professionalism, ethics and integrity is evident in her continued work with the AIC. Judge Tacha’s enthusiasm for and dedication to the legal profession is infectious!

DD: What is your first recollection of the American Inns of Court?

Judge Tacha: My mentor, Jim Postma, came to me and said there was a group of lawyers and judges in Lawrence, Kan., talking about creating an Inn, as they were excited about the AIC’s model of professionalism and civility. A few years later, I was approached by fellow judges on the circuit bench, including Judge Higginbotham and Judge Wallace, who encouraged me to be part of the Inns. I’m still a Master of the Bench at my local Inn.

DD: What is the most important thing the AIC does?

Judge Tacha: In a few words, it brings lawyers and judges together in a common commitment to raising the level of professionalism, ethics, civility and legal excellence. By enhancing professional discourse and focusing on the rule of law, we further that commitment. Because of the growth and stratification of the profession, we have grown farther apart as lawyers and judges, and know each other less well. Fostering mutual trust and respect is therefore a challenge. The American Inns of Court raises the level and quality of interaction among lawyers and judges.

DD: What is your definition of the "rule of law"?

Judge Tacha: There are many definitions, but I believe the key characteristics include an independent Bench and Bar not influenced by partisan leaders or the political winds of the time. The rule of law also depends on a certain and open legal system, in which the law is transparent and people are educated openly and honestly about the law and how it is administered. It is fairly obvious that, in many parts of the world where there is no transparency, there is no rule of law. In addition, there must be equal access to justice: if you have a cause of action or a legally cognizable claim, the courts should be open to you. Criminal law in particular must be evenly and justly administered.

DD: One of the goals of the AIC is to preserve the heritage of the legal system. What is "legal heritage" to you?

Judge Tacha: Legal heritage is everything to me. It reminds me that my work is part of a long history. Although legal heritage means many things, it certainly means tradition. For example, we trace important parts of our tradition to the Magna Carta, which protected certain individual rights from the excesses of government. And an animating force in this nation is the principle that the people are sovereign. It is essential to the rule of law that the legal profession be committed to these traditional ideals.

DD: What are the challenges AIC members face today?

Judge Tacha: It is so easy to be engrossed in day-to-day courtroom judging — the pressure of the work and deadlines — that we don’t always step back. We should get involved in the profession, here and around the world, especially the free world. The history of the legal profession is one of incredible sacrifice, and we need to be continually energized by the complexity and ideals of our legal system.

DD: What can attorneys expect if they join a local Inn?

Judge Tacha: Expect to be very involved. Be involved with the pupillage teams, at the meetings and outside the meetings. Interaction and professionalism are about mutual trust. When you join an Inn, the reward is becoming better-acquainted with others across the profession. And, remember, mentoring operates in all directions; it is not just older lawyers mentoring younger lawyers. I remember one time, when I was flying home late, I was tired but I still went to my local Inn’s meeting. There, a group of young lawyers gave a wonderful presentation on privilege and the ethical questions involving e-discovery. They mentored me!

DD: What is your favorite law and why?

Judge Tacha: Now there is an interesting question. I think the Constitution is the most brilliant and idealistic document in the history of civilized society. I think of the great personal sacrifice of the drafters and of the ongoing presence of enduring values. It strikes me as nothing short of genius. There have been so few amendments because we rarely reach a point in this country where we need to amend it.

Matthew Crouch is an associate attorney at Riggs, Abney, Neal, Turpen, Orbison & Lewis. He can be reached at (303) 298-7392.

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