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TCL > July 2014 Issue > Charles F. Garcia—Let the Conversations Begin

July 2014       Vol. 43, No. 7       Page  5
In and Around the Bar
Profile of 2014–15 CBA President

Charles F. Garcia—Let the Conversations Begin
by Alexa Drago

About the Author

Alexa Drago is the communications and marketing manager for the Colorado and Denver Bar Associations—(303) 824-5313,

A strong work ethic and a sense of humor—these are the characteristics inherent in CBA President Charley Garcia. As he begins his year at the helm of the CBA, both qualities will be part and parcel of every effort Garcia will undertake. He also will tap into his public service experience (he is a retired public defender) and his pragmatic outlook (he began his professional life as an accountant). His love of the law will guide him as he confronts the burgeoning questions of what the future of the legal profession will look like, and how the CBA can best serve its members as the profession continues to evolve.

Garcia believes the future of the bar association and the legal profession is in the hands of its young lawyers. For this reason, during his year as CBA president, he plans to "focus on youth first." Then, because he has been firmly committed to equal access to the legal system, he also will devote his tenure to the topic of access to justice. According to Garcia, making access to justice a mainstay of the profession is going to require the participation of everyone. Garcia says: "There is nothing we do in this profession that does not incorporate access to justice." He also believes that the legal profession and the CBA membership are complementary entities; serving one enhances the other.

CBA President Charley Garcia firmly believes in the sentiment
etched on the wall at the Supreme Court

Getting to Know Him—Personal History

Taming buffalo in the Wild West.
Elementary school.  

Charles (Charley) F. Garcia was born and raised in Jacksonville, Florida. His All-American life was stable and predictable until the eleventh grade, when his parents divorced and moved to different parts of the country. Garcia spent the next two years making a new life with new friends, first living with his father in California, and then with his mother in the north country of Wisconsin, where he finished high school. In 1968, while attending college in Wisconsin, he was drafted into the U.S. Army and sent to Korea and then to El Paso, Texas, where he worked as a missile technician until 1971.

When his tour of duty ended, he enrolled at the University of Wisconsin and studied accounting. Very much a product of the 1960s, after being released from the army, Garcia vowed never to cut his hair again—a promise kept until a job offer required him to cut off his pony tail. Still retaining an element of rebellion, he kept some of the length and went to work. The next day, he was back in the barber’s chair. The barber said he knew Garcia would be back.

When he graduated in 1973 with a degree in accounting, Garcia joined Arthur Andersen, at the time one of the "Big Eight" accounting firms in the country. For the better part of a decade, his work with Arthur Andersen as a CPA specializing in International Tax moved him across the United States and Canada, eventually settling him in Denver. During this time, Garcia’s "Perry Mason" side continued to nudge him toward becoming a lawyer. Once in Denver, he enrolled in the University of Denver College of Law’s (Denver Law) evening program. During the day, he worked as a CPA with Price Waterhouse.

1978. Fly fishing on the Rouge River near Garcia’s home in Toronto, Canada.


  1986. Photo ID, Colorado Public Defender’s Office.

As an International Tax CPA, Garcia’s first professional perception of the law and how it was used (or in some cases abused) was from a different vantage point than most attorneys. This experience helped shape his interpretation of the rule of law, which he believes relies on the adequacy and integrity of the courts.

After graduating from Denver Law in 1985, Garcia took a job with the Office of the Colorado State Public Defender (PD), where he practiced as a criminal defense trial attorney for twenty-two years, the last seven of which serving as Office Head of the Denver Trial Office.

Defining His Career—The Death Penalty

A significant event for any defense attorney presented itself to Garcia in 1997, when the Denver District Attorney sought the death penalty in the case of the accused Capitol Hill serial rapist, Jacques Richardson. Garcia knew that if he took the case, years of his life would be consumed by it. He asked his wife Anne what she thought about his taking the case. She surprised him with an entirely different perspective from his on the matter.

"I think it’s very simple," she replied. "There is one question you have to ask yourself: If you lose, and they kill your client, how will you deal with that?"

Confident he would be able to say to himself that he had done everything he could to save that man’s life, he took the case. Two years later, Jacques Richardson was convicted in Denver of first-degree murder, and sentenced to life in prison without parole under Colorado’s three-judge death-penalty system.

Short Stint as Denver’s Manager of Safety

After retiring from the PD’s Office in 2007, Garcia briefly put his retirement on hold in 2011 when he was appointed Manager of Safety for the City and County of Denver during the mayoral term of Bill Vidal. Vidal recalls:

When I asked Charley Garcia to join my administration, I told him he would be on a sort of suicide mission if he accepted; he had four months to establish some much-needed discipline among the ranks or flame out trying. Thankfully, Charley accepted the mission and performed admirably. His contributions have made a difference for our community, and I am forever grateful to him.1

As Manager of Safety, Garcia oversaw the police, sheriff, and fire departments, and took on a lengthy list of objectives, as well as a handful of significant pending cases against the city. He had six months—all politics aside—to get the job done.

"Our whole philosophy for those six months was very simple. Is it the right thing to do and, if so, how can we do it?" explained Garcia.

For the first time, Charley turned to his son Chad, a career police officer, for advice. One policy change on his agenda was to curb the right of off-duty police officers to carry their badges and guns while socializing, and possibly consuming alcohol. He told Chad, "This isn’t going so well." Chad replied, "Well, Dad, think about it. You’re trying to take a gun from a cop; what did you think would happen?"

He learned more on that job than he had ever learned about anything in six months. When Denver Police Deputy Chief David Quinones was asked to reflect on Garcia’s time in the role, he said:

Charley became Manager of Safety for the City of Denver during challenging times for the Denver Police Department. He made a number of difficult decisions that brought him both positive and negative attention, and [he] was willing to accept the responsibility for those decisions. Charley is a man who remains true to his beliefs and principles.2

Notwithstanding the serious nature of the job, it also gave Garcia a long list of laughs, unique opportunities, and outstanding memories—from riding the fire trucks down the international runway at Denver International Airport to joining the vice presidential secret service detail in Air One, the Denver Police Department’s helicopter. One afternoon, Garcia called Chief Quinones (also known as "Q") and said, "I want to knock down some doors." When asked what he meant, he explained that the Chief’s men had been knocking down the doors of his clients for years, and he wanted to experience it for himself. Arrangements were made, and one afternoon he found himself part of a drug bust at three motels on East Colfax.

The Thinker and Optimist

Garcia might not consider himself a "yes man" in the familiar sense of the term. However, when describing himself, he seems to lean toward speaking in the affirmative—and the positive:

I am a great believer that everything you do in life adds to who you are. I am more apt to say yes than no; I don’t ever want to say I wish I had. The worst that can happen is that it doesn’t work out, and you move on.

Retaining that attitude, Garcia constantly tells himself to lighten up. He keeps a coffee cup on his desk in his home office with a favorite daily reminder: "There are three things that are real: God, human folly, and laughter. The first two are beyond our comprehension, so we must do what we can with the third." Garcia says, "At times we all take ourselves, life, and the law too seriously. You should be able to laugh at all of them."3

Judge Robert Hyatt from the Second Judicial District Court remarked that Garcia probably had been in his courtroom as much as any lawyer in Denver over the course of the last thirty years. "He must think that I am his parole officer—or perhaps that he is mine," Judge Hyatt quipped. "He was a dedicated advocate, completely professional and ethical, and always able to maintain his sense of humor."4

When he retired from the PD Office, Garcia took time out to teach constitutional and comparative law in the Ukraine with the Center for International Studies. In 2009, he worked with the Center for Education in Law and Democracy in the Dominican Republic. Additionally, Garcia is a teacher for the National Institute of Trial Advocacy, and also sits on the Judicial Advisory Council of the Colorado Supreme Court, the Colorado Access to Justice Commission, the Colorado Criminal and Juvenile Justice Commission, the Governor’s Community Corrections Advisory Council, and the Chief Justice Commission on Professionalism. He also is a CBA representative to the ABA’s House of Delegates. He currently is Special Counsel to the Governor, where he has served under both Governor Bill Ritter and Governor John Hickenlooper.

Governor Ritter first worked with Garcia in the mid-1990s to create the Denver Drug Court, one of the first of its kind in the country. At the time, Ritter was Denver District Attorney. He recalls that Garcia was an invaluable asset in setting up the court. "The amount of coordination it took to create the Denver Drug Court was astounding," Ritter said. "Charley worked very hard to get that up and running." Ritter added that "Charley was an outstanding defense attorney and manager of the PD’s Office. He worked extremely hard at making sure the office was well run and efficient, and that its employees were happy."5

"Charley Garcia is a savvy public servant," said Governor Hickenlooper recently. "He has been a tremendous resource for our administration as we make judicial appointments and handle other legal issues."6

CBA and Other Involvements

Garcia became active in the CBA in the late 1990s, when he became a member of the Criminal Law Section Executive Council. As a former CPA, the Budget Committee was the next natural step. He was a graduate in 2007 of the inaugural class of the CBA’s leadership training program, known as COBALT. At that time, he became acquainted with CBA President-Elect Bill Walters. This led to his serving as CBA treasurer, a position he held for five years. "The key to really enjoying being a member of the bar is recognizing the value of being a part of your professional community," Garcia says with conviction.

After experiencing it first-hand, Garcia strongly believes in the COBALT program. He speaks to the class every year. COBALT’s curriculum is designed to enhance leadership skills among CBA members who are acknowledged leaders of the profession and their communities—across practice areas and throughout the state. Garcia’s graduating class included legal luminaries who are now judges, bar leaders, and CBA section chairs, all leaders in their communities. This year, he was asked to speak about adversity, not a word he particularly likes to use. "I don’t look at anything in life as adversity—it’s a challenge, an opportunity," Garcia said. "People say opportunity comes knocking at your door—well it doesn’t. You have to go knocking at opportunity’s door." This pragmatic attitude will surely serve the CBA well during Garcia’s presidency.

In 2013, Garcia received the Denver Bar Association’s (DBA) highest honor, the Award of Merit, which recognized his outstanding service and contributions to the legal profession, and his dedication to the improvement of the administration of justice. To him, it was not an individual award, but a reminder to all attorneys that "law is not so much a profession, but an honor."

Imparting His Knowledge—Sharing His Pride

Garcia works attentively to pass along that message to younger attorneys. Since 1994, he has been an Adjunct Professor at Denver Law, and has mentored numerous emerging lawyers through the DBA Mentoring Program and the Colorado Supreme Court Mentoring Program, known as CAMP. As a mentor, he encourages young attorneys to look beyond their own business of practicing law and become involved in the legal community as a whole. "In this town, your reputation is everything," Garcia said for a 2012 Docket article on the mentoring program. "That reputation goes beyond being just a good lawyer. It’s a good person, a good citizen, the whole package, and that’s all I tried to instill."7 By teaching and mentoring, he hopes to make the profession a better place, and in turn, create an improved society by emphasizing quality of practice and pro bono civic duties over the more tangible, wealth-driven motivators.

One of his standing principles is that if you don’t enjoy what you are doing, go do something else. He had an opportunity to apply this principle when the time came for him to move on from the PD’s Office. When he started working there, his wish was to make it an organization where the attorneys would be excited to get out of bed in the morning to go to work, and where they were excited about the work they did. When he was ready to leave, he wanted to be able to say (and for others to feel) that he had accomplished this goal. In fact, he succeeded. Colorado PD Fernando Freyre is among the first to say so:

Charley was a great boss. The Denver PD’s Office, all fifty-plus lawyers and support staff, were very lucky to have him. Charley was certainly great at that job. When you’re a PD, you tend to be a type of person who questions authority, and when there is one person who has to keep everyone in line, you can imagine what that is like. He did a great job—we all felt like he was on our side. He was always there for us.8

Husband, Father, and Dedicated Dog Man

Charley and his wife Anne will celebrate their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary this September in Paris. As Charley puts it, Anne has really been the one to "steady the ship." Before he met her, Garcia described himself as a somewhat reckless person, with no real direction. Anne’s sense of life balance brought things into perspective for Garcia, helping him focus. Today, she is his most trusted advisor. His son Chad, a former Marine and current narcotics detective, lives in Wisconsin with Garcia’s two grandsons, Cody and Spencer

Charley and Anne in Burns, Colorado, overlooking the Colorado River.   Charley and Anne on the 18th hole of Pebble Beach golf course in California.
Garcia with son Chad, far left, and grandsons Cody and Spencer.   A night out in the Mile High City.
  Sungold Mountain Shilo.

Any free time Charley can find is spent playing golf, fly fishing, or enjoying time at their cabin in Grand Lake with Anne and their golden retriever, Sungold Mountain Shilo. A dedicated dog man, he once brought his brand new retriever puppy into the courtroom to show Judge Hyatt. The puppy ran right up to the bench, looked at his master, and promptly let loose a prodigious stream of puppy urine right in front of the bench, committing the ultimate act of contempt. Judge Hyatt is convinced to this day that Garcia taught the ten-week-old puppy to pee on command, using some sort of hand signal. Garcia is giving nothing away, but if one were to judge by his expression when he recounts the tale, Judge Hyatt just might be onto him.



Presidential Plans

Garcia says that diversity will be a major consideration in his CBA Executive Council appointments. "We need to appreciate that how we deliver legal services is changing, and the way to understand that is by listening to differing opinions and experiences," he said.

Also, during his term, a new task force will be formed that will include representatives from the ABA, the CBA Executive Council, CBA Young Lawyers Division, and others, to look at the long-term future of the CBA to learn how it is relevant to its membership today and how it can continue to be relevant down the road.

"The profession is facing new challenges," said Garcia. "We can’t continue with business as usual. We need to rethink the role and the relevancy of the association."

  Judge W. Terry Ruckriegle, 2013–14 CBA President, passes the gavel to Charles F. Garcia.

As CBA president, he also hopes to encourage judges to become more involved in their communities to help the public understand not just what occurs in the courts, but also who the judges are behind the bench and what their role is. Garcia feels that the Judicial Branch—on a national level—has become an unequal partner in government, and that fostering civic education is an essential action needed to reverse that trend. He hopes to continue the CBA’s support of partnerships with civic educational programs, such as Judicially Speaking,9 Our Courts,10 and the Colorado We the People program,11 in which the CBA helps to provide volunteers and other resources.

During his statewide tour of local bar associations, he plans to bring together judges, lawyers, and legislators. Garcia promises to initiate what he hopes will be an ongoing conversation about the courts, the legal community, and the greater community, to demonstrate how they interact and support one another.

On a less serious note, as he travels around Colorado, Garcia looks forward to enjoying two of his passions: fly fishing in a clear Colorado stream, and playing a round or two of golf at one of Colorado’s challenging courses. (He welcomes any suggestions.)

Charley Garcia’s personal philosophy is uplifting and infectious. He says, "Life is a journey, and if you don’t enjoy the journey, then it’s not life." CBA members can only reap the benefits of the life and positive energy he will breathe into the CBA during his year as president.

Garcia outside the Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center.


1. E-mail correspondence from former Denver Mayor Bill Vidal (May 17, 2014).

2. E-mail correspondence from David Quinones, Deputy Chief of the Denver Police Department (May 16, 2014).

3. Menen, The Ramayana: As Told by Aubry Menen (1954). This is said to be one of President Kennedy’s favorite quotes from this work.

4. E-mail correspondence from Judge Robert Hyatt (April 27, 2014).

5. Telephone interview with former Colorado Governor Bill Ritter (May 28, 2014).

6. E-mail correspondence from Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper (May 13, 2014).

7. Crocker, "The Perfect Match: Finding the Right Mentoring Relationship," 34 The Docket 7 (Nov. 2012).

8. Telephone interview with Colorado PD Fernando Freyre (May 19, 2014).

9. See Haywood, "A Civics Education, Judicially Speaking," 34 The Docket 18 (Jan. 2012).

10. See

11. See Center for Education in Law and Democracy,

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