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TCL > January 2013 Issue > Our Unflappable Friend Chuck Turner

January 2013       Vol. 42, No. 1       Page  5
In and Around the Bar
CBA President's Message to Members

Our Unflappable Friend Chuck Turner
by Mark A. Fogg



Lately, I’ve been getting bow tie catalogs in the mail. Although I’m not entirely sure why this started, I have my suspicions. I go to the obligatory black tie event about every six months or so, but that’s it. I did read in the materials that bow tie companies will send free bow ties to someone who provides names for their mailing lists. I only know two guys who wear bow ties—Troy Rackham and Chuck Turner. Troy would never do that to me just to get a few lousy ties, but Chuck—hmm, I wonder.

Of course, I’m kidding, but the image of our CBA/DBA Executive Director, Chuck Turner, wearing a bow tie is legendary. He told me that his dad wore bow ties on occasion, and one day about thirty years ago, he just decided to start wearing them himself. (You talk about a lot of things with a person when you’re driving back from Lamar at 11:00 p.m. after a local bar visit.) Past CBA President Dave Johnson adds another perspective he formed when he first met Chuck: "I figured that anyone who wears bow ties must have nerves of steel."

Law Club members (left to right, Brenda Taylor, Sandy Waters, Dave Atkinson, and Wiley Mayne) salute Chuck in song at his twentieth anniversary. They sport homemade bow ties in his honor. CBA President Dale Harris at far left also dons a homemade bow tie for the occasion. Chuck appears at right sans bow tie.   A sartorial statement.

One luxury in writing these articles is that I can write about individuals I truly admire. For example, when I was DBA President several years back, I wrote about my longtime mentor, Brooke Wunnicke.1 Brooke helped to instill in me the great honor of being a lawyer. Chuck has helped me understand how lawyers strive to become great lawyers by embracing and promoting the core values of the profession: service to clients, access to justice, professionalism, and community service.

An Admired Colleague and Friend

I’ve known Chuck for twenty-plus years, and I have worked with him a whole bunch in the last ten years. There are about a dozen people I’ve met in my lifetime who have superior skill sets yet are the humblest of human beings. Chuck is one of those people. I promised myself that before my term was up, I would write about Chuck because of what he has done for our bar associations and our profession in reflecting these core values through his leadership, bar programs and projects, his staff, and in relationships with bar associations and lawyers throughout the country—also because we all think so much of the guy.

The last article written about Chuck in The Colorado Lawyer was by CBA President Laird Milburn and published in October 2001.2 This occurred shortly after Chuck was named a "Law Star" by the University of Denver Sturm College of Law (DU Law). Another article certainly is due.

  Chuck with 1995–96 CBA President Phil Figa (back seat) and 1996–97 CBA President-Elect Miles Cortez (at the wheel).

As a CBA member, I was thankful for all I was aware of that Chuck did for the bar associations. However, CBA and DBA Presidents can have almost daily contact with Chuck. Only now have I come to fully understand his dedication to the associations and the profession. I want to share this perspective with you.

To prepare for writing this piece, I contacted past CBA and DBA Presidents after Laird.3 I asked them how they liked working with Chuck, what they remember most about him from their term in office, and what traits they believe make him a successful executive director. As the comments came back to me, the organization of the article became clear. The responses I received consistently mentioned Chuck’s character traits and philosophies that make him a gifted and effective leader. I received across-the-board expressions of admiration and appreciation for him and his work.

A Behind-the-Scenes, Reflective Leader

Steve Briggs describes Chuck well. He says, "For every limelight, Chuck seeks out the shadows. When you try to shine a light of credit or compliment on Chuck, he becomes a mirror reflecting all recognition back on his staff and the bar volunteers."

Roger Clark gives his perspective about Chuck. He says, "Chuck knows virtually everyone and knows how to get the best out of them, and how to calm them in times of stress."

John Baker adds that "Chuck gives quiet encouragement and support to bar leaders and members, then quickly fades into the background to let them receive the praise and glory."

Chuck also has that gift of providing a reliable, strong rudder without upsetting the captain or crew. John Moye tells a good story. John knew Chuck when Chuck was the Assistant Dean for CLE at DU Law and John was the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs. John liked Chuck’s smooth management style, his attention to detail, his creative thinking, and his consistently positive attitude. When John became CBA President-Elect, he looked forward to working with Chuck again and wanted to set a meeting immediately on programs that John wanted to launch when he was CBA President. John recalls: "In his own inimitable way, Chuck said he was happy we were working together, but it was premature to develop plans until we see what the past and current presidents are going to do." When John’s term arrived, Chuck enthusiastically embraced the projects that John wanted to accomplish.

Chuck discusses "Strategic Goals" at an Executive Council meeting.   Chuck and Debbie Turner hand out materials at an annual Senior Law Day event.

Institutional History—
A Major Asset to Association Leadership

Creative costuming at
Halloween (not a reflection
of management style).

All those who gave me comments emphasize that Chuck’s institutional knowledge, leadership, and savvy about lawyers, judges, and political considerations are major assets to the bar. "When you’re about to step on a land mine, you get rescued by Chuck with a quiet and behind-the-scenes mentoring that maybe you want to consider an alternative path," says John Baker.

Dave Johnson says that Chuck evokes a cool, calm, unflappable demeanor. He "provides history on an issue that sometimes avoids a problem or prevents one from getting bigger."

Liz Starrs points out that "presidents come and go, and with Chuck’s phenomenal institutional knowledge, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Chuck is the consummate professional. He gives advice when asked for, but not before."

Immediate Past President David Masters provides an additional perspective. David says, "I was impressed and comforted by Chuck’s political intuition and ability to sense the political dimensions of issues. He explained the political nuances that needed to be considered." David adds that Chuck is always a gentleman in his interaction with others, which is something that is close to the top of David’s list of compliments.

Past DBA President Chris Little recalls that shortly after his term started, the Vote No on 40 campaign began. Proposed Amendment 40 sought to impose term limits on judges, a proposal that the bar associations and others viewed as a fundamental attack on the independence of the judiciary and our merit system of selection and retention of judges. Such attacks put the judiciary in a very difficult position, because opposition to such proposals may be viewed as political—an approach the judiciary has to avoid.

"Chuck’s foresight let us circle the right wagons to protect our merit system plan," Chris says. "Chuck understood the inherent dilemma the judiciary was in and found the right bar leaders to make the stand."

It’s All About the Members

Chuck continuously serves as a ground wire for CBA and DBA leadership and staff that the bar associations are the members’ associations (emphasis intentional). The organizations belong to the members, the volunteers, and the established boards. Reminding us of this core philosophy is no easy task when you take into account that Chuck is working with a change in executive leadership every year in two bar associations. As a result of his leadership from the top, the bar association staff is consistently trying to find new ways in which to serve members, provide benefits, and determine how to cast broader nets to encourage members to get involved.

Chuck and Debbie with David and Michael, two of their three sons.

Caring About Veterans and
Lawyers in Tough Situations

My wise friend Bill Walters reminded me of Chuck’s everyday gestures that often go unrecognized by many of us in the bar. For example, he has a passion for supporting veterans who now serve as attorneys and for those veterans in need. (Chuck himself served with distinction as an artillery officer in Vietnam.)

A serious runner for many years, Chuck has transitioned to long-distance bicycling as a member of the Wheels of Justice team, which raises funds for Children’s Hospital.  

Supporting veterans is a constant passion in his life. In this regard, Chuck ensures that the CBA and DBA’s annual "Homeless Veterans Stand Down"4 continues for veterans who may have a variety of legal needs and limited resources. He also helps organize a reception around Veterans Day for CBA members who served in the armed forces. He was instrumental, along with Co-Chairs John Vaught and Ben Currier, in establishing the Colorado Lawyers for Colorado Veterans program, which now has six ongoing clinics operating in the state and plans for more clinics.5

Partly because he has formed so many friendships with colleagues over the years, and because he has a deep commitment to helping his fellow lawyers, Chuck is the first to visit the lawyer who becomes ill, to help the lawyer with a disability, or to provide assistance to the lawyer who is suffering a tragedy in his or her life. I have learned about numerous bar association members with whom Chuck has spent countless hours providing various kinds of support.

One such lawyer was John Castellano. John was DBA President during 1994–95. He also helped administer the Waterman Fund, which was established "for the sole purpose of relieving the financial necessities, assuaging the hardships, and lightening the financial burdens of aged, infirm, or otherwise incapacitated members of the Colorado bar, in good repute and standing, and who have practiced law in Colorado for at least ten years."6

Chuck admired John for many reasons. One aspect of John’s leadership that garnered Chuck’s enormous respect was John’s unflagging efforts, including getting membership funding, for the construction of the Governor Ralph Carr memorial on the east lawn of the State Capitol Building in Denver.

Mary Jo Gross remembers a poignant moment when taking a walk with Chuck past the memorial. Chuck reflected on how proud he was of the DBA’s accomplishment.

After a long, successful career at Holland & Hart, John’s diabetes required him to undergo numerous operations and submit to ongoing dialysis, which left him greatly debilitated. Chuck visited John often to listen, to demonstrate his friendship and personal support, and to comfort John’s wife Mary Anne.

I also was close to John. As his health deteriorated, Chuck would call me with regular updates on his condition. Finally, when death was imminent, Chuck let me know; we both arrived at the hospice when John died. Chuck is the type of person who is always there for friends and colleagues when times get tough.

Here’s to Another Thirty-two Years!

  Chuck as proud grandfather, with granddaughter Caroline.

Chuck has been the CBA and DBA Executive Director for thirty-two years. For his twenty-fifth anniversary, which was celebrated during a CBA Past Presidents Dinner, the bar association staff contributed a list of "The Top 25 Reasons Why We Love to Work With Chuck." One reason I won’t share with you was that "he rarely carries cash, thus allowing us the privilege of paying for his parking and buying his drinks at bar association functions." Another reason I won’t share was that "he’s very generous. When he cleans out his in-basket, he makes sure everyone gets at least one piece of paper from him."

All kidding aside, it’s nice to share what the staff said was their number one reason they love to work with Chuck: "He encourages us to be independent thinkers and allows us opportunities to grow as professionals while serving our members."

A Day on the River With Chuck

You always have to end with a fish story.

While traveling the state to visit the twenty-seven local bar associations, I have made it a personal goal to get in at least a few hours of fly fishing on each trip. I was pretty successful, not accounting for trips to, say, the Aurora Bar Association.

On my very first local bar trip to Aspen, Glenwood Springs, and Silverthorne, my daughter’s boyfriend made arrangements for Chuck and me to fish the spring creeks and Roaring Fork River on his family ranch in Carbondale. Chuck’s son David, who is a public defender in Denver and an accomplished fly fisher himself, was able to join us. He asked me early in the day, "Could you fish with my Dad? I have a tendency to shout at him." I felt more than up to the task.

Chuck did great. He caught several smaller fish and masterfully reeled them in. Toward early afternoon, there was a pool with huge trout feeding near the bottom at about a four-foot depth. Tough drift—fast water, short distance, need to get deep.

Chuck made several valiant efforts. I showed him the drift and I was lucky enough to hook a nice-sized fish. I worked through the steps with him of bringing in a big fish on a fly rod. Almost immediately, he hooked a huge rainbow trout (I was envious) that quickly began to do cartwheels on top of the water. Chuck’s excitement was apparent. Unfortunately, as these things happen, an expert long-distance catch-and-release was perfectly executed after about a minute-and-a-half (meaning the fish got away). However, it was a great experience!

David’s face appeared from behind a bush a few minutes later.

"How you guys doing?" he asked.

"We’re doing great," I said. Somehow, I felt that I had given a little payback with something I love to my good friend, mentor, and colleague—Chuck Turner.

Thanks, Chuck. We’re better for knowing you!


1 Fogg, "A Jewel in Our Lives," The Docket (April 2009), available at

2. Milburn, "CBA President’s Message to Members: Congratulations and Thanks!" 30 The Colorado Lawyer 95 (Oct. 2001), available at

3. Following, in the order of their appearance, are the CBA and DBA Presidents who shared their comments about Chuck for this article:

  • Steve C. Briggs, CBA President, 2004>
  • Roger E. Clark, CBA President, 2005-06
  • John T. Baker, DBA President, 2009-10
  • John E. Moye, CBA President, 2002-03
  • David M. Johnson, CBA President, 2009-10
  • Elizabeth A. Starrs, CBA President, 2006-07
  • David L. Masters, CBA President, 2011-12
  • Christopher B. Little, DBA President, 2005-06
  • William E. Walters, CBA President, 2008-09
  • Mary Jo Gross, DBA President, 2004-05

4. During the Veterans Stand Down event in Denver, for example, homeless veterans who have open Denver County Court cases are able to resolve their legal issues in a special courtroom session. Stand Downs, which are part of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ efforts to provide legal services to homeless veterans, are held throughout the year in numerous locations.

5. For information about the CBA Military Committee, the Veterans Stand Down program, and the Colorado Lawyers for Colorado Veterans program, contact Committee Chair John M. Vaught at, former CBA Young Lawyers Division Chair Ben Currier at, or CBA/DBA Director of Public Legal Education Carolyn Gravit at

6. For more information about the Waterman Fund, visit

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