The Anonymous Citizen Lawyers of Lawline 9
by John Baker
Without any expectation of personal gain or notoriety, some of Denver’s citizen lawyers appear on television, but no one ever knows their names.
Each week, these citizen lawyers arrive at the 9News KUSA-TV station to share their knowledge with the public through the Lawline9. The program offers an opportunity for Denver citizens to get basic information about their legal problems in a live call-in format during the local evening news show. For 17 years, more than 400 volunteers from the Denver Bar Association have answered callers’ legal questions every Wednesday night from 4-6:30 p.m.
How Does Lawline9 Work?
On live TV, 9News invites the public to call the Lawline9 hotline. Callers ask about all areas of the law. On occasion, special nights are devoted to topics such as immigration, criminal law, bankruptcy, employment, social security disability, litigation and accident/injury cases.
The program helps callers understand their legal issues better. However, it does not provide specific legal advice for callers’ individual circumstances.
Lawline9 also spotlights volunteers with specialty bar associations, such as the Colorado Women’s Bar Association, the Hispanic Bar Association, the Sam Cary Bar Association, the Asian Pacific Bar Association and the CBA Real Estate Section. Other law-related organizations, such as Metro Volunteer Lawyers, Rocky Mountain Children’s Law Center and Denver Child Support Enforcement Division, are featured too.
9News Lawline9 Producer Ann King started the program 17 years ago as a cooperative public outreach effort by the news station and the DBA.
"I never would have dreamed that Lawline9 would last this long. It’s truly a tribute to the attorneys and the Denver Bar Association," says King. "Many of the DBA lawyers are old friends and they’ve been with us for years. They take volunteering seriously! We’ve had lawyers get speeding tickets just to get to 9News by 4 p.m.!"
King makes all of the arrangements for staging the program each Wednesday and greets the volunteers personally. Carolyn Gravit, DBA Director of Public Education, says King is crucial to the program: "Through career changes, marriage, having children and even hardships like losing a loved one, Ann is always there. Ann is a constant."
Patti Dennis, Vice President at 9News adds, "We are very proud of the relationship with the Denver Bar Association and the good work we are doing together."
Who Are the Lawline9 Citizen Lawyers?
In true, citizen-lawyer fashion, the Lawline9 volunteer lawyers put aside their self-interests to help their fellow citizens. Not only are they lawyers volunteering their time, but they do it anonymously.
The volunteers include lawyers from diverse practices and backgrounds. Volunteers who have been particularly loyal and dependable to Lawline9 include Jim Aab, Bruce Bernstein, Karen Best, Ida E. Escobeda Betson, Jim Carr, Joe Davies, Jack Fitzgibbons, Don Jacobson, Ken Lampton, Mark Masters, Charlie Peters, Scott Robinson and Karen Spaulding. To illustrate the diversity of these volunteers, I’ll like to highlight a few of these Lawline9 regulars:
Karen Best says her most memorable call was "from an anxious-sounding person who wanted to file a civil rights case against the government for harassment. He felt that he was being followed by government cars and helicopters. The pressure from this harassment was making him crazy, whereupon I took the opportunity to suggest that he call a doctor."
Best said she was drawn into the "fascinating practice of medical malpractice defense." She later shifted her focus to family law. For almost 20 years she worked at Montgomery Little Soran & Murray. She currently works as a family law mediator at her own firm.
Bill Burns, a solo practitioner, volunteers because he can "help people and have a chance to work around other DBA attorneys." Working shoulder-to-shoulder with other attorneys helps him "keep up with what is going on in the legal profession and improve my own skills as a lawyer," he said. A Denver native, Burns has his own law practice with an emphasis in landlord-tenant disputes, Chapter 7 Bankruptcy litigation, and other general civil litigation and misdemeanor criminal practice, including D.U.I. cases.a
Jim Carr recently retired as Senior Assistant Attorney General at the Colorado Attorney General’s Office after working almost 30 years in the Litigation Section on ethics, environmental and regulatory issues. Carr volunteers for Lawline9 because "the callers need to talk to someone and get advice, while I enjoy being able to provide that for them. It is usually a win-win situation." Carr’s most interesting call was from a dog owner from Aspen, who had been ticketed because his dog ran loose in town and fought with another dog.
Don Jacobson is a former courtroom litigator who now does mediation work at his own firm. Jacobson says Lawline9 is the, "pure practice of law. Someone asks for help or information, and you do the best you can to help without any consideration of your time or his or her ability to pay fees." Committed to public service, Jacobson also volunteers in numerous other DBA activities, including Court Annexed Mediation Project and classroom projects.
Thomas Jefferson and the other founders of the United States would be proud of the fine citizen lawyers of Lawline9.