A Jewel in Our Lives
by Mark Fogg
We called her the "velvet hammer." She was the Chief Appellate Deputy District Attorney in Dale Tooley’s Denver District Attorney Office. We worked for her as legal interns, still in law school, trying to write all the trial briefs needed by our deputy district attorneys. We also wrote a lot of appellate briefs for the Colorado Supreme Court, mainly on the issue of whether the exclusionary rule on evidence was appropriately applied.
On every brief, she would have you come around behind her desk and sit right next to her while she went through the brief line by line with you. The famous red pen would appear and we’d hear the first of many gentle, but firm, utterances of, "…I understand what you are trying to say dear, but I think it might be better if we say it this way." At the end of the process, what was thought to be a pretty decent brief now looked like a bloody cheesecloth dripping with red slashes and substitute words. Of course, it was a much better brief. As we gained experience, the red ink diminished and the feared utterances evolved into the praise of, "This is a lawyer’s brief."
Almost daily back then, the near-60-year-old Brooke would come flying around the corner into the library yelling "emergency," which meant that some judge had just ruled, or was about to rule, against one of our deputies. This meant that everyone dropped whatever they were doing and scrambled to find cases that would support our position. If Brooke didn’t like an argument we were making, it became quickly apparent because she pinched her nose as though to cover the stench. Another great "Brookeism" was when a lawyer or intern would come in with a problem, stating, "You aren’t going to believe this one…" and the longtime trial attorney would answer, "Try me."
The great thing about working with Brooke was that she had seen it all. She was the first woman trial lawyer in the state of Wyoming in 1946, back when juries were all men.
She tried cases in Cheyenne and the rest of Wyoming for 23 years. When her husband "Jimmie" retired in 1969, they moved to Denver and Brooke practiced in the areas of oil and gas, real estate and securities law. In 1973, she joined the D.A.’s Office and worked there until 1985. In 1986, she became Of Counsel at Hall & Evans. She still practices law there at the age of 90.
Jimmie passed away just a few months before I met Brooke in 1977. She still speaks of him and misses him as if he passed only recently. I wish I had known him. Jimmie took numerous big game hunting trips to Africa, often accompanied by daughter, Diane. In Brooke and Diane’s house are trophies from his adventures. I house sat for Brooke and Diane many times during law school and, waking up at night, there were several startling instances where I almost thought I was in the old Twilight Zone episode where the trophies came alive in the middle of the night.
The late 1970s dealt another difficult blow to Brooke. As a capstone to her career, a longtime dream for her was to serve on the Colorado Supreme Court. After appearing in hundreds of appeals, she was well-qualified. She was the first woman ever unanimously certified for the court and one of three nominated. Unfortunately, only the two men nominated were interviewed by the governor. Largely as a result of this, the rules were changed so that the candidates’ names could be publicized and the selection procedure could be more open. We all knew how much the appointment meant to her. But true to form, Brooke taught us resilience as an attorney.
She started writing her first of many legal texts, which are still supplemented and widely used in commercial letters of credit, corporate risk management and ethics. She taught as an adjunct professor at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law in oil and gas, future interests, real property and the law of western coal. She is a nationally known speaker on professional ethics.
Along with many other recognitions and awards, she received the CBA Award of Merit, the DBA Award of Merit, the CU Law William Lee Knous Award, the DU Law All Star Award and the Lathrop Trailblazer Award from the Colorado Women’s Bar Association.
She calls all of us who interned her "children." She estimates there are about 65 of us. She took us into the trial courtrooms and the appellate courts and mentored us on how to be trial and appellate lawyers, how to give respect to the courts and how to be a good advocate. She met my wife on our first date and told me the next day, "She’s the one." She came to our house after the birth of each of our children. We visit on Mother’s Day and I have lunch with her every few months. She is a jewel in my life. Last year, we shared a 90th birthday party for her, and one of her other children, Bill Ritter, proclaimed the day "Brooke Wunnicke Day" by executive order.
To this day, when I begin a trial, I do as Brooke taught me and turn from the podium toward the Bench, give a slight bow and state, "May it please the Court." As Brooke taught me, I do it out of respect for the robe. I also do it for Brooke.