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TCL > July 2014 Issue > Edward E. Pringle (1913–2002)

July 2014       Vol. 43, No. 7       Page  43
Four of the Greatest

Edward E. Pringle (1913–2002)
by Bruce D. Pringle

About the Author

Bruce D. Pringle, the son of Chief Justice Edward Pringle, practiced law in Colorado and served as a U.S. Magistrate Judge for the District of Colorado. He also acted as a mediator, arbitrator, and court-appointed special master. He is the author of Colorado Law Annotated, a nine-volume treatise on Colorado law. He is retired and living in California—

Friends and colleagues remember Edward Pringle as an
unpretentious man whose legacy is the state’s judicial system,
overhauled during his term as Colorado Supreme Court chief justice.

—Carl Hilliard
Rocky Mountain News1

He was the best chief justice we’ve ever had. . . . He brought
the Colorado court system into the 21st century while it was
still the 20th century, and it became recognized nationwide.

—Harry O. Lawson
Colorado state court administrator2

Justice Pringle has made a towering contribution to the
Colorado Judiciary. He has left his shadow over all our Colorado
institutions. He is a rare combination of academic and practical,
tough but compassionate. His place will be impossible to fill.

—Hon. Richard D. Lamm
Governor of the State of Colorado3


When Eddie4 Pringle was appointed to the Colorado Supreme Court on October 30, 1961 by Governor Steve McNichols, the Colorado judicial system was much the same as it had been since the turn of the century. The system was probably reasonably well suited to what Colorado was when it became the thirty-eighth state on August 1, 1876—sparsely populated, largely rural, with an economy based primarily on farming and ranching. By the middle of the 20th century, however, the judicial system was stressed beyond its capacity to efficiently dispense justice. During the seventeen years that Eddie Pringle served on the Colorado Supreme Court, he spearheaded a total overhaul of the system, reaching almost every aspect of judicial administration.

Childhood and Schooling

Edward E. Pringle was born in Chicago on April 12, 1914. His father, Abe, was born in Russia and immigrated to the United States as a young boy shortly after the turn of the century. After working for a time as a butcher on a train bound for Alaska, he took up residence in Chicago and married Lena Oher, an immigrant to the United States from Poland. When Eddie was 4 years old, the family moved to Denver. He grew up on 12th and Larimer in an area that was a melting pot of first-generation Americans. His father owned a small grocery and was active in neighborhood politics.

Eddie attended Cheltenham Elementary School, Lake Junior High School, and North High School. By age 16, Eddie had graduated from high school and enrolled at the University of Colorado (CU) in Boulder. He joined the Phi Sigma Delta fraternity and worked as a hasher and as a house manager to help pay for his education. It was at CU that Eddie developed an infatuation with journalism. He was the sports editor of the Silver and Gold (CU’s student newspaper from 1892 to 1970) and was also a stringer for the Associated Press and United Press. This interest in journalism played a crucial role in shaping Eddie’s view of the relationship between the government and the Fourth Estate.

Law Practice, Marriage, and the Military

  Private First Class Eddie Pringle.

Eddie graduated from the CU School of Law in 1936 at the age of 22. He was torn between the legal profession and a career as a journalist. In fact, he nearly took a job as a sports reporter for The Denver Post before accepting an offer from Denver attorney Phil Rossman for office space in exchange for working on Rossman’s cases. After a brief stint with Rossman, Eddie struck out on his own. Business was sparse, and Eddie spent many hours playing Battleship with his friend and colleague, attorney Max Frankel.5

In 1941, Eddie married Pauline Judd.6 Shortly thereafter, Eddie enlisted in the Army Air Corps and was sent to Sheppard Field in Wichita Falls, Texas for training. He developed a severe case of kidney stones, which ultimately resulted in an honorable discharge in 1942.

After his military service, Eddie worked for the Office of Price Control, and then returned to the private practice of law. He partnered with Max D. Melville, who was already a legend in the Colorado legal community.7 The office produced a host of great lawyers, including Fred Winner, who later became the Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado; Duke Dunbar, who later served as the Colorado Attorney General; and Bob Kingsley, who served as a judge on the Denver District Court.

Judicial Career

In 1957, Governor Steve McNichols appointed Eddie to fill a vacancy on the Denver District Court. Colorado still adhered to the old system of selecting state judges in partisan political elections. Eddie defeated his opponents in both the 1958 and 1960 general elections.

Eddie’s penchant for judicial reform surfaced while he was on the Denver District Court. While assigned to the domestic relations division, he was instrumental in establishing Colorado’s first court marriage counseling service. During his assignment to the civil division, he became chair of the Rules Committee and led the effort to establish the first set of regulations in a generation to expedite cases and produce fairer trials. Eddie was selected as a panel leader for the Committee for the Effective Administration of Justice, chaired by Justice Tom Clark of the U.S. Supreme Court. The Committee trained state trial judges nationwide. His close relationship with Justice Clark continued for almost twenty years as they sought to reform judicial systems nationwide.

Eddie Pringle (front row, wearing bowtie), with U.S. District Court Judge Alfred Arraj (third from left), and judges of the Denver District Court, circa 1960.

On October 30, 1961, Governor Steve McNichols appointed Eddie to fill a vacancy on the Colorado Supreme Court. He would serve as a member of the Colorado Supreme Court for the next seventeen years, as its Chief Justice from 1964 to 1965, and again from 1970 to his retirement from the bench in 1978. During the course of his service on the high court, Eddie wrote more than 700 opinions. Referring to Eddie’s opinions, Justice Jim Groves observed:

The average appellate opinion contains four rules of law. Moses was a piker. He came down off the mountain with only 10 Commandments. Pringle came down with around 3,000, and except those as to which I dissented, they are truly great monuments.8

During his swearing-in ceremony for the Colorado Supreme Court, Eddie Pringle shakes hands with William E. Doyle, whom he was replacing. Governor Stephen McNichols is at left, and sons Bruce and Eric are watching from the front row.

When asked about important opinions he had authored, Eddie recollected his short three-paragraph dissent in the 1962 case of Green v. Continental Airlines.9 Green was an African American who applied for a job at Continental Airlines. Continental refused to hire him. The Colorado Supreme Court held that the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act could not be applied to personnel of an interstate air carrier. In his concise dissent, Eddie eloquently reflected:

I cannot believe that a law passed by a state which implements a basic concept of our form of government—the right of a man, otherwise well qualified, not to be denied a job solely because of his race, color, or creed—can be deemed to be a burden on interstate commerce.10

The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari. In a unanimous ruling, it concurred with Eddie’s concise dissent and reversed the decision of the Colorado Supreme Court.

Attorneys who practiced before the Supreme Court during Eddie’s tenure recall his habit during oral argument of turning his swivel chair around so that he was facing the wall. After listening to an attorney’s arguments for a few minutes, he would suddenly wheel the chair around, point his pencil at the attorney, and direct questions to the startled lawyer.

As Chief Justice, Eddie was successful in convincing the Colorado Legislature of the need for a new state judicial building. He oversaw the project, keeping a particularly watchful eye on construction costs. The building was completed ahead of schedule and under budget. Most Colorado lawyers remember the odd rectangular shaped four-story building that sat on two legs at 14th and Lincoln in Denver. The dedication ceremony was held on Colorado Day, August 1, 1977. Chester Alter, Chancellor Emeritus of the University of Denver (DU), gave the dedication address. Alter praised Eddie for bringing the building in under budget, but jokingly noted that he had accomplished this fete by eliminating the first floor.

Moot court competition at the University of Colorado, left to right: Justice Paul Hodges, U.S. District Court Judge Fred Winner, Justice Edward Pringle, Justice Donald Kelley, and Justice Robert Lee.

A Sea of Change in the Judicial System

As a member of the Colorado Supreme Court, Eddie was a moving force in a host of judicial reforms that radically altered the entire state judicial system. He vociferously supported and assisted the effort to obtain passage of Amendment 3, which substituted Colorado’s current system of judicial selection and tenure for the old partisan election process. Equally important were Eddie’s efforts to convince the legislature to reinstitute the Colorado Court of Appeals. There had been no intermediate appellate court in Colorado since 1917. After 1917, the Supreme Court was required to hear all appeals from the district courts. By the 1960s, there was a substantial backlog in the processing of appeals by the high court. In 1970, the court of appeals was reestablished, with five judges.

When Eddie was elevated to the Supreme Court, Colorado still had an archaic system of justices of the peace. Each justice of the peace was unsupervised and operated independently. Many were not lawyers and had no formal legal training. The deficiencies in the justice of the peace system were a source of concern by Justice Otto Moore, who served on the Court from 1948 to 1968.11 However, once Eddie became a member of the Supreme Court, and largely through his efforts, the justice of the peace system was abolished in Colorado.

The Colorado Supreme Court (early 1960s). Back row (left to right): Donald Kelley, Edward Pringle, Paul Hodges, and Jim Groves. Front row: Edward Day, O. Otto Moore (Chief Justice), and Robert McWilliams. (Picture taken in Supreme Court Library in State Capitol.)


The Colorado Supreme Court (late 1960s). Back row (left to right): Jim Groves, Paul Hodges, Donald Kelley, and Robert Lee. Front row (left to right): Edward Day, Robert McWilliams (Chief Justice), and Edward Pringle.

During his tenure as Chief Justice, and working closely with the Colorado Legislature, Eddie created an integrated and unified state court system in which the responsibility and authority for administration of the entire system resided with the Chief Justice and the Supreme Court. This authority included the power to (1) promulgate both procedural and administrative rules on a statewide basis; (2) assign judges to sit outside their home counties or districts to alleviate docket congestion; (3) appoint the chief judges of the district courts; (4) monitor case flow and backlog problems through continuous review of current statistical data; (5) create and operate a personnel system for employees of all state courts and court-related agencies; and (6) appoint a state court administrator to ensure that the day-to-day operation of the entire court system conformed to the guidelines established by the Colorado Supreme Court.

Historically, Colorado’s state trial courts had been funded by the counties in which they were located. Eddie convinced the legislature to transfer the responsibility for court funding from the counties to the state. This allowed for a unified court budget and a unified accounting system. It also allowed the Supreme Court and the state court administrator to exercise supervision and control over the allocation of funds and personnel in the operation of the courts and their related agencies.

When he became Chief Justice, Eddie observed that there was no formal process for keeping the legislature informed of the activities and needs of the judiciary. As a result, he became the first Chief Justice in the nation to address a joint session of a state legislature to report on the state of the judiciary. The initial 1970 address was so well received that it became a regular event.12 Since its inception in 1970, the state of the Colorado judiciary address was used by Eddie and his successors not only to inform the legislature of the current status of the court system, but also to request the legislature to approve new judicial positions, approve increases in salaries for judges and judicial personnel, and make structural improvements to the judicial system.

Many other reforms and improvements were spearheaded by Eddie after he became Chief Justice. Among them were the creation of a statewide system of full-time qualified probation officers, a program for statewide attorney registration, the continuing legal education program, and a drive to create uniform jury instructions in plain English.

National Advocate for Judicial Reform

Eddie’s success in judicial reform extended far beyond Colorado. He became a leader in the effort to update state judicial systems nationwide. As Chief Justice, he became a member of the National Conference of Chief Justices, an organization devoted to the exchange of ideas for improving the administration of justice, rules and methods of procedure, and the organization and operation of state courts and judicial systems. He was so highly regarded by his colleagues that in 1973, he was elected president of the Conference of Chief Justices.

Working with the Chief Justice of the United States, Warren Burger, and retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Tom Clark, he helped create the National Center for State Courts. It serves as a national think tank and a voice for the needs and interests of the state courts. Eddie served as chair of the Center from 1977 to 1979.

The American Judicature Society is an independent nonpartisan organization that works nationally to protect the integrity of the American judicial system. Following in the footsteps of such legal legends as William Brennan, Orie Phillips, and Tom Clark, Eddie served as the chair of the Board of the American Judicature Society from 1974 to 1977. Eddie was also a member of the commission to establish the National Institute of Justice (NIJ). Created in 1969, the NIJ has been in the forefront of nearly every innovation in criminal justice research and policy.

Eddie’s judicial leadership throughout his career on the bench was enormous. When Eddie retired, U.S. Senator and former Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court Howell Heflin summarized Eddie’s national contribution to judicial reform in a letter:

You are truly the leader of the movement that has spread across the country in state judicial systems to modernize and make the administration of justice a reality to the people of the several states of this nation.13

Eddie and the Press

Since his college days, Eddie was part journalist at heart. His love of journalism led to a very special and unique relationship between Justice Eddie Pringle and the press. He understood the positive impact a fully informed press could have on public perception of government in general and the Judicial Branch in particular.

Reporters loved to tell stories of how Eddie spent his lunchtime. Instead of going to a restaurant or club, he preferred to bring a sack lunch and eat it in the basement of the State Capitol Building, surrounded by a host of local reporters. They would discuss the societal responsibilities of judges, lawyers, and members of the press, as well as recent Supreme Court decisions. These lunch sessions were fondly remembered by Chuck Green of The Denver Post:

Journalists generally refuse to be trained, but Eddie Pringle trained a whole pack of them. And both journalism and the profession of law, as well as the public’s understanding of legal matters, are the better for his efforts.14

Professor Emeritus Eddie Pringle

  Justice Edward Pringle.

Eddie stepped down from the Colorado Supreme Court on July 10, 1979. Shortly thereafter, he accepted an offer by this friend and Dean of the DU College of Law, Dan Hoffman, to run the law school’s legal writing program. He remained at DU for eighteen years, and was named a Professor Emeritus.

Under Eddie’s direction, the legal writing course gained national attention. Reflecting on his penchant for concise understandable writing, Eddie observed:

A lawyer can be the brightest, most astute diviner of issues, but if he can’t communicate his thinking to his client, to other lawyers, judges and jurors, it’s all useless.15

Eddie’s teaching efforts did not escape the notice of his friends in the press. Gene Amole, one of Colorado’s legendary journalists, fondly quipped:

I cherish him because of his devotion to clarity in writing. He is trying to teach future attorneys to write law briefs people can actually understand. Certainly, he is swimming against the tide.16

Pauline and Eddie Pringle, circa 1970.    Eddie and Pauline Pringle, circa 1990.


During the course of his career as a jurist and an educator, Eddie received enough awards to cover the walls of a good-sized office. In 1974 and again in 1975, he was named by The Denver Post to its Gallery of Fame.17 The National Council of Jewish Women presented him the Hannah G. Solomon Award. Eddie was honored for his exemplary service to his community, state, and nation at the 1974 Patriotic Night sponsored by the Columbine Masonic Lodge. In 1978, he was named Colorado Citizen of the Year by the Colorado Association of Realtors, and in 1983, he was the Veterans of Foreign War’s Citizen of the Year. Governor Richard Lamm proclaimed September 26, 1978 to be Edward E. Pringle Day in Colorado.

Eddie was also honored by the members of his profession, on both a national and local level. In 1973, former Justice Tom Clark presented Eddie the Herbert Lincoln Harley Award, the highest citation of the American Judicature Society, for his national achievements in the field of judicial improvement. In 1974, he was presented the Judge William Lee Knous Award by the CU School of Law. In 1992, he was honored at a testimonial dinner by the DU College of Law.18 In 1997, the Colorado Bar Association bestowed its highest honor on him, the Award of Merit.

The crowning monument to Eddie’s judicial carrier came on September 24, 1997 in the chambers of the Colorado Supreme Court, when a stained-glass window with Eddie’s name and likeness was dedicated. Only two stained-glass windows depicting Colorado jurists have graced the chambers of the Colorado Supreme Court—Eddie’s window and a window honoring Robert R. Steele, who served as Chief Justice from 1900 to 1910. Both windows have now been relocated to the Lindsey-Flanigan Courthouse.

Eddie Pringle during a ceremony for his stained glass window in the Supreme Court Chambers at 14th and Lincoln.  


Eddie Pringle’s sixty-two-year legal career came to an end in 1998, when he vacated his office at the DU law school. As Eddie and I carefully packed up his books, photographs, and papers, he reminisced about the "old days," and related stories about the life and the law and his friends in the legal community. I believe it was probably one of the saddest days of his life.

Eddie’s wife, Pauline, passed away in 1999, and Eddie died in 2002. He was survived by his two sons and four grandchildren.19


1. Rocky Mountain News (March 6, 2002).

2. The Denver Post 5B (March 4, 2002).

3. Proceedings in the Supreme Court of Colorado on the occasion of the retirement of the Honorable Edward E. Pringle as a Justice of the Court and on the occasion of the swearing in of the Honorable Jean E. Dubofsky as a Justice of the Court at xiii (July 16, 1979) (Proceedings).

4. Before beginning to write this article, I pondered how I should refer to my father, the late Justice Edward E. Pringle. I finally decided just to go with "Eddie" because, except when court was in session and on formal occasions, that is how all of his friends greeted him. As The Denver Post aptly observed in an article on September 29, 1997: "That’s where the ‘Eddie’ comes in. The judge never let his high station or extensive scholarship separate him from the common run of men."

5. Interview of Justice Edward Pringle conducted in 1999 by Diane Hartman of the CBA.

6. Both of Pauline’s parents were born in Denver. Eddie would joke: "I was born in Chicago in 1914; I came here when I was 4 and I’ve been here ever since. My wife tells me I’m a carpetbagger because she was born here and her father was born here." Id.

7. Max Melville is referenced in several profiles of "Outstanding Lawyers in Colorado History" published in The Colorado Lawyer. Eddie Pringle wrote a profile of Max Melville, which was published at 12 The Colorado Lawyer 1073 (July 1983). CBA members can access it through Casemaker at Click on "Colorado" and then "The Colorado Lawyer." Type "Max Melville" in the search box.

8. Proceedings, supra note 3 at xi.

9. Green v. Continental Airlines, 368 P.2d 970 (Colo. 1962), rev’d 372 U.S. 714 (1963).

10. Id. (Emphasis in original.)

11. Justice O. Otto Moore served on the Colorado Supreme Court for twenty years, from 1948 to 1968. See Chandler, "O. Otto Moore," 29 The Colorado Lawyer 11 (July 2000),

12. The 1970 state of the judiciary address is described in detail by Bill Logan in Rocky Mountain News 5 (Feb. 9, 1971).

13. Letter from Sen. Howell Heflin to Chief Justice Edward E. Pringle (May 5, 1992). Many other local and national leaders sent similar letters to Eddie at the time of his retirement and on the occasion of a testimonial dinner sponsored by the DU College of Law. They included U.S. Chief Justice Warren E. Berger, U.S. Justice Byron R. White, Sen. Edward Kennedy, and Gov. Roy Romer.

14. Green, The Denver Post B1 (March 6, 2002). Eddie’s lunches with the press were also described in an editorial in The Denver Post on March 3, 2002, as well as in a March 6, 2002 article by Nick Groke in The Denver Post and an article by Carl Hilliard in Rocky Mountain News on March 6, 2002.

15. Melrose, Rocky Mountain News (June 3, 1985).

16. Amole, Rocky Mountain News 4 (April 13, 1989).

17. The Denver Post (Sept. 14, 1974); The Denver Post (Nov. 8, 1975).

18. The guest list included such legal notables as Gov. John Love, Gov. Steve McNichols, Ben Aisenberg, Mike Berger, Judge Jim Carrigan, Professor John Carver, Jeff Chase, Jerry Conover, Justice Edward Day, Justice William Erickson, Harold Feder, Phil Figa, Judge Sherman Finesliver, Dan Hoffman, Judge John Kane, Alex Keller, Justice Donald Kelley, John Low, Prof. Thompson Marsh, Judge Robert McWilliams, Marty Miller, Prof. Raphael Moses, John Moye, Skip Netzorg, Maury Reuler, Ira Rothgerber, Justice Luis Rovira, Bill Steele, Chuck Turner, Carol Welch, Judge Fred Winner, Mike Williams, and Bob Yegge. An Intermountain Jewish News article on June 26, 1992 contains a description of the event, along with pictures of many of the attendees.

19. My brother, Eric, Eddie’s youngest son, passed away in 2009.

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