John Baker: Baseball Fan and Trial Advocate
by Dennis Walker
Born in Leadville, Colorado, (elevation 10,152) John Baker spent his early days hanging around baseball diamonds in Grand Junction. His analytical talents first emerged at Sam Suplizio Field at Stocker Stadium.
As a sophomore at Grand Junction High School, he often found himself announcing two games simultaneously at the two softball diamonds for the parks and recreation department. He would introduce the batter on one field, then turn 30 degrees to update spectators on the balls and strikes in the adjacent game. He mastered the art of keeping the box scores and enjoying the game at the same time. Perhaps the pressure of juggling duties for different contests prepared him for his career in law.
On the other side of Stocker Stadium, Baker occasionally got to score semi-professional baseball on weekends. He saw many players in those days of the Grand Junction Eagles. Exhibition contests were even arranged between the local semi-pro team and other professionals. In the late 1960s, this included the Kansas City Monarchs. Baker saw the legendary Satchel Paige pitching for the Monarchs when Paige was about 58 years old.
After graduating from Colorado State University with a degree in political science in 1970, Baker attended the University of Denver College of Law, graduating in 1973. He ended up teaching in the clinical education program and stayed on to run the juvenile defender program between 1973 and 1975. He left teaching to join the firm of Carrigan & Bragg. Baker initially expected to work in routine personal injury litigation. Early on, however, he was surprised to find himself serving as first chair on a criminal preliminary hearing under the eyes of the Honorable Jim Carrigan, the eventual Colorado Supreme Court Justice and Federal District Court Judge.
Baker quickly realized the importance of getting to know clients well. The needs, families, stories, journeys and injuries of people motivated him. He learned to analyze and present evidence of unsafe products, dangerous circumstances and careless conduct. In litigation work about the injurious effects of intrauterine devices, Baker and his partner, Doug Bragg, achieved breakthroughs and set standards for others. Often, the evidence focused on the "truth" about products, combined with their tragic impacts. In an unusual twist in the late 1980s, when a number of products cases ended up in federal court, Baker and his partner tried a series of them to Judge Richard Matsch without a jury.
The firm changed from Carrigan, Bragg & Dubofsky to Bragg & Dubofsky and then later to Bragg Dubofsky & Baker. When Frank Dubofsky was appointed to the Colorado Court of Appeals, the firm became Bragg & Baker.
Around 2001, Baker chose to become an independent practitioner, working select cases, and as well as returning to teaching. After working a number of years with the National Institute for Trial Advocacy, in early 2008 Baker became its public program education director. Located in Louisville, NITA helps lawyers learn how to perform effectively and ethically in the courtroom.
Even when he delves into the heart of major impact cases, Baker still retains his focus on the needs of his individual clients and their families. He serves his clients without being blinded by procedure and massive data. In early 2008, one of his clients passed away after suffering from the crushing effects of primary pulmonary hypertension that was triggered by diet pills. When the end arrived, Baker said, he was surprised to notice that his personal anger at the injustice of his client’s suffering had become at times overpowering. It was hard to remain objective with evidence that the maker of the product likely had anticipated — even calculated — the loss of consumers who used the diet pills. Despite the years and many clients, he found that this loss was harder, rather than easier, to endure.
Baker’s love of baseball hasn’t waned a bit. He shares Rockies games with friends and family. He has devoted time to Denver Kids, Inc., Denver Public Schools projects and the annual Branch Rickey humanitarian award through the Rotary Club. Now, teaching again consumes much of his time. He works hard to educate lawyers and enhance the quality of our profession. For any side of a contest, you can expect Baker to be caring and dedicated — many know him through his work on the Metropolitan Conciliation Panel. He speaks nationally and internationally on professionalism and the ethics of being a lawyer. During his year as president of DBA, he plans to focus on recruiting young lawyers as members and encouraging them to serve their community.
John and his wife, Jane, have three children, ages 20, 29 and 31, and one newborn granddaughter. Though at times it can be a struggle, work-life balance has always been important. While his children were growing up, Baker coached soccer, baseball and basketball teams.
Look for him in the classroom, at the ballpark, at the bar association and in the courtroom. John Baker walks his talk as an involved and dedicated citizen lawyer.