Denver Bar Association
April 2013
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The 100 Year Building: Dedication of the Ralph L. Carr Judicial Center starts a new era of the Colorado courthouse

by Lauren Lockard

Ralph Carr Justice Center
The exterior of the court, located at 2 E. 14th Ave., across the street from the state Capitol.


he Ralph L. Carr Justice Center opened with little fanfare this winter, but on May 1 and 2 the judicial branch is inviting students, and a nationally notable jurist, to celebrate the new justice center.

Next month will mark the dedication of the building — as well as the opening of the learning center, the last piece of the judicial center to officially open — with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor in attendance. Sotomayor is the circuit justice to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The judicial center has been dubbed the "100-year building," meant to grow and evolve with the branch it houses. The dedication also culminates more than 25 years of planning and spans the tenure of two Colorado Supreme Court chief justices.

Former Building Missing Room to Grow

Even before the Colorado Judicial Building was dedicated in 1977, it faced challenges.

The Colorado Supreme Court features a dome, letting in natural light.
Columbines, the state flower, are used throughout the décor of the judicial center — most notably in the rotunda floor on the main level.
Landscape photos by John Fielder were installed in the judicial center in March. Fielder worked with the courts to have about a dozen placed there as another public art installation within the judicial center.
Brass, granite, marble, and dark woods are used throughout the judicial center. Here, the entry to one of the courtrooms for the Colorado Court of Appeals.

First, bids for the building — modeled after the Federal Reserve and meant to house the Colorado Supreme Court, Colorado Court of Appeals, state court offices, and the Colorado History Museum — came in over budget. The executive decision was made to scale back the design. As a result, both the courts and the history museum lost a floor and the idea of providing underground parking was completely withdrawn. Because of the lost floors, there was much less space for both entities. Initially, the courts and various state court offices were able to move into the building. But as the Court of Appeals expanded from 10 panels to 16 in 1988, many of the state court offices were relocated. Eventually, they were scattered across five buildings.

In addition to space issues, the judicial building was plagued with a number of maintenance problems. Due to poor drainage, the basement was constantly flooding. This would not have been such a major problem, but with the loss of space from the initial design, every available inch of space was being used. The basement stored valuable pieces for the museum. In both the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals’ courtrooms, there were leaks directly over the podium. As a short-term solution, the maintenance staff fashioned some garbage bags, a hose, and a large can to protect attorneys during oral arguments. The contraption did its job of keeping attorneys dry, but it also lovingly garnered the name "the diaper" around the courts.

One Building for Two Different Organizations

In 1987, Mary Mullarkey was appointed to the Colorado Supreme Court. She had been at the judicial center’s dedication and worked in the building, so she had a first-hand awareness of its issues.

At that point, a large majority of the court offices were in separate buildings and the history museum was interested in expanding. It also had become clear to many that it did not make much sense for two completely different entities to occupy the same building.

An Appellate Building Committee was formed, but because both entities had become so attached to the building neither wanted to leave, leading to a stalemate.

Mullarkey realized that the only way to move the much-needed project forward was to turn to an outside group. Urban Land Institute Colorado was tapped and ultimately determined it would be most beneficial to the city if the judicial branch was the sole occupier of the space it shared with the history museum.

This was all Mullarkey needed to proceed at full steam. After coordinating a walkthrough of the building with members of the General Assembly, they were in agreement of the need for improvements. After securing funding through certificates of participation, bonds, and court fees, the $258-million project was on its way.

A Building for Whatever Comes Next

The judicial building was imploded in August 2010, making way for construction of the Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center. The goal was to make this a building that could grow with the courts — a building that could handle whatever came next — as well as one that can be a gathering place, a focal point symbolically and literally.

The new building, which houses the Colorado Supreme Court and Colorado Court of Appeals, as well as staff of the courts, the Office of the State Court Administrator, the Attorney General’s Office, and other judicial agencies, sits across the street from the state Capitol, the heart and seat of the state government.

Its design in many ways echoes the design of the Capitol: Bronze used for the doors and railings was chosen to match the Capitol’s gold dome. Draped in granite and dark wood, the judicial center also reflects aspects of Colorado, from the use of the state flower, the columbine, throughout the building, to the works on display by local artists.

Dedicating the Judicial Center

The purpose of the May dedication is to celebrate the judicial center in a public way, said Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Bender, recognizing the uniqueness of the building from an architectural, educational, and historical standpoint.

The opening of the learning center is just one of the events taking place during the dedication. The brainchild of Bender, the learning center will include a short film using clips from movies such as "Animal House" and "My Cousin Vinny" to explain why there is a rule of law and the issues that arise when the law is not present.

The dedication festivities will begin Wednesday, May 1, with a reception and a tour of the judicial center. Also, one high school student from each state House and Senate district will be selected to meet with Sotomayor. The formal dedication with Sotomayor, the justices of the Colorado Supreme Court, and 20 students will follow on May 2. Although these events are not open to the general public, there will be tickets available through the court. D

Lauren Lockard is a recent graduate of the University of Denver Sturm College of Law. She works for the state of Colorado in the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing. She may be reached at

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