Faculty Blog: Tribute to a Mentor

On Monday, August 31, Gregory Hobbs will step down as Associate Justice of the Colorado Supreme Court, a position he has held for the past nineteen years. I was extremely fortunate to serve as a law clerk for Justice Hobbs for the 2000–2001 term. On the occasion of his retirement from the bench, I wanted to add my voice to the chorus of praise for this extraordinary public servant.

Justice Hobbs was (is!) a water law expert, a historian, a poet, a keen cultural observer, and a man with his finger on the pulse of the communities he served. More than once during my clerkship, he reminded me that the Court’s authority came with profound responsibility: each decision directly affected lives and livelihoods. There was no place for judicial (or judicial clerk) egotism or haughtiness. At a time when the news cycle and daytime television converged to create a culture celebrating sassy, snarky judges, Justice Hobbs was always a jurist of remarkable care and humility.

But a commitment to judicial humility still left plenty of room for the Justice to make his individual mark. “There is a second story in the footnotes,” he once said to me during my clerkship. He was talking about his majority opinion in Board of County Commissioners v. Vail Associates, Inc., an opus of an opinion that concerned a head-spinning series of exemptions to the general rule allowing counties to impose property taxes. The opinion was a careful parsing of case law and statutory and constitutional text, but it was also a fascinating jaunt into Colorado’s history. There was a second story in the footnotes, taking readers on a ride from 1877 to the turn of the twenty-first century, and folding in references to mining, farming, ranching, and skiing—the things that make Colorado uniquely Colorado.

I think of that opinion whenever I think of Justice Hobbs, because he too is uniquely Colorado, and because his influence on me and my career can, in a sense, be found in the footnotes as well. Well after my clerkship ended, I have come to regard him as a mentor and an example. It comes in the way he conducts himself as a father, grandfather, husband, friend, boss, and jurist. It comes in the humility he has always shown for his judicial position, and the constant recognition that doing what is right by the law is not always easy. It comes in his love of the State of Colorado, its people, and its institutions. It comes in his ability to stand by his principles while remaining willing to reevaluate his positions. It is a rare judge—indeed, a rare person—who can approach his job with such pleasure, dignity and candor day in and day out. The interaction between Justice Hobbs and his clerks, and among the Justices themselves, gave me a deep appreciation for how appellate decisionmaking should work. Those moments still influence me as a law professor today: I spend most of my time teaching, thinking, and writing about how judges decide cases and how judicial behavior influences others in the legal system.

So the text of my time clerking may read, “Law Clerk, Hon. Gregory J. Hobbs, Jr., Colorado Supreme Court, 2000–2001,” but the real story is in the footnotes. The people of Colorado have been blessed to have Justice Hobbs on the Court for almost 20 years. I have been blessed to know him for nearly fifteen years, where his example has been a constant influence. Thank you, GJH.

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