October 1, 2023


Advocacy. Mediation. Success.

Q&A with William R. Lucero | Longtime enforcer of the legal profession | Courts

Rapidly Facts:

  • William R. Lucero became the presiding disciplinary choose for Colorado in 2004 and retired at the conclusion of Might
  • As the second PDJ in the state’s history, he listened to cases involving allegations of legal professional misconduct, as prosecuted by the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel
  • Lucero grew up in Pueblo and received his regulation degree from the University of Denver in 1972
  • From his graduation until the Supreme Courtroom appointed him as PDJ, he was a prosecutor at the state and federal degrees

Colorado Politics: When did you choose to develop into a lawyer?

William Lucero: It would have been my senior yr in faculty. My occupation prepare at that time was to be a trainer. I concluded my pupil educating at a superior school in Pueblo and utilized for employment in Pueblo to get a instructing situation and was not getting any responses.

I discovered later that I experienced a quite negative reaction from the higher education about my ability to even speak the English language. By that time I was married and my wife and I had a boy or girl, and I desperately wanted a work.

Just ahead of that 12 months, in 1968, my brother was killed in Vietnam. It was a tough time for me and I was struggling with how to deal with that. My grandmother and grandfather explained to me about an possibility to go to law college. It was one thing I hardly ever regarded. The dean of the College of Denver legislation faculty was building an effort and hard work for additional Hispanic representation at the time. Extended tale quick, I went to DU regulation school.

CP: You pointed out there were doubts about your means to discuss English. Where did all those come from?

Lucero: Just one of the professors at my university student teaching course in college or university. It turned out immediately after I was acknowledged to legislation university I received numerous gives to train. And I currently made a flip in the other direction. The base line is I never expected becoming a law firm. My lifestyle desire was to turn out to be a significant university soccer and wrestling coach.

CP: Can you trace your route for me from graduating legislation faculty to turning out to be the presiding disciplinary decide?

Lucero: There ended up a amount of systems that ended up made obtainable to college students to exercise regulation. (Gov.) Dick Lamm was a professor at DU at the time, so was (notable Democrat) Howard Gelt. They experienced a follow program there for college students who believed perhaps they desired to be trial lawyers. Which is what I assumed I required to do.

We had a legal support office in 5 Factors. From the business office we would symbolize indigent defendants in misdemeanor cases in different counties in the course of the metro space. Just before I graduated from law school I applied to get a job at the Denver District Attorney’s Office.

At that time, (future Judge) Gary Jackson was a deputy DA. Gary and I ended up the initial Black and brown faces in the DA’s office. The very first group picture that I was in for the DA’s place of work — to give you some context, Justice Neil Gorsuch’s mother (and future U.S. Environmental Defense Agency administrator), Anne Gorsuch, I’m suitable following to her in the team image. Gary was the only Black particular person and I was the only brown person in that business office.

Then I went to the U.S. attorney’s place of work. Although I was there I prosecuted white-collar crime. And during this entire time, the Colorado Supreme Court’s grievance committee was the predecessor to the system we have now for lawyer regulation.

Our method shifted from an all-voluntary technique to the method we have currently with the PDJ (in 1999), with a compensated decide. Below that old program, it was all volunteers, so you can picture when a attorney has a hectic apply and they have scenarios that require their consideration, the initially case they give focus to is probably not the a single they are carrying out volunteer do the job in.

CP: So how did that affect the attorney self-discipline system?

Lucero: There was delays of up to two years. Portion of the issue was below that old method, the self-discipline wasn’t imposed right until the Supreme Court issued a remaining opinion. And that could take a long time.

The other criticism was the inconsistency of the sanctions imposed. There were being a few various panels that been given problems from citizens. They experienced a minimal range of staff to examine (the issues). As soon as they determined there was possible lead to or good lead to to go forward with a case, the case would be despatched about to a 2nd committee to adjudicate it. That took a prolonged time.

The remedy to it was to make a presiding disciplinary decide who would make all the decisions. At that time there was some pushback from the profession. The method that was in spot for several years and yrs and decades relied upon the “deans,” so to discuss, of the lawful profession. And they experienced some turf that they ruled upon for years. Other than the fact the situations had been delayed and at times inconsistent, they did a exceptional position. 

There was some modification: Instead than acquiring a just a presiding disciplinary choose make your mind up instances, they made the decision to include legal professionals on the listening to board that would sit with the presiding disciplinary judge and, in addition to that, citizens who are not legal professionals sit on the listening to panels.

I was a state and federal prosecutor and I constantly wanted to be a choose, and when the prospect came up I put my name in.

CP: Our viewers include things like attorneys and judges, but there are also a great deal of people today who are not connected to the legal job. Can you reveal to anyone from the normal community why the perform of the presiding disciplinary decide matters?

Lucero: The Supreme Court’s produced a lot of pronouncements and conclusions around the yrs that the major goal of the regulatory technique, which include the presiding disciplinary judge, is to safeguard the public from lawyers who usually are not undertaking their job — which means not abiding by the regulations of expert carry out

Presently, it truly is particularly significant to make self-confidence in our authorities. And section of our governing administration is the judicial system. I can convey to you, in working with citizens who’ve participated in the listening to board approach, those people citizens who sit and hear a case realize the importance of currently being section of that process.

CP: How do citizens essentially get to sit on the panels? Is it like a jury summons where by you get a letter in the mail? 

Lucero: It is really special. We really don’t have a jury pool. 1 of the to start with things that I did when I became the presiding disciplinary judge is I wrote to the main judges of several districts in Colorado and I asked them to you should provide me with names of citizens they knew and legal professionals that ended up professional, revered in their communities and would be prepared to volunteer. And I bought a very very good response.

There’s no computerized method for it. When I was PDJ, I would recruit individuals. Their names are vetted. Then the Supreme Court docket appoints individuals to the hearing board course of action. It is not like the mail goes out and you get a very little detect that you are chosen. 

Regrettably, most of the time when the instances are heard, that hearing board is all legal professionals. It is really me and two lawyers. What would be excellent would be to have a presiding disciplinary choose, a memb
er of the public and a law firm. 

CP: How does a non-attorney utilize to take part? 

Lucero: What I would suggest is to write instantly to the PDJ, Bryon Massive. They can just place a resume in there and say they are intrigued in participating. Throughout the pandemic, we experienced hearings remotely for nearly two years. A single of the matters that could be a dilemma for some people today geographically is, if they are in Grand Junction or Durango or Fort Morgan, it may be tricky for them to basically come and sit in court (in Denver).

CP: Can you give me an illustration of a normal subject that could come prior to the PDJ?

Lucero: I would have to say that the root of the challenge, and we see this an terrible ton, is a lack of communication. The legal professionals just aren’t answering the consumers. In some circumstances, it receives to the position where the shopper states, “I you should not want you as my law firm anymore. I want my retainer back again.” And the attorney has not done substantially or the consumer would not know significantly about what has been completed, and that’s why they’re complaining.

The law is actual distinct and ought to be clear to anyone who’s not a lawyer — the dollars a customer presents you is not yours right up until you get paid it. That can result in the lawyer dropping their license. Far more typically than not, it is really a lack of superior file retaining. Which is a diverse circumstance, particularly the state of mind of the attorney. In my experience as PDJ, there are far more problems created by attorneys than outright fraud.

CP: There are a lot of occupations that really don’t include bringing a employee just before a statewide tribunal when they are accused of wrongdoing. It would not transpire with journalists or artists or retail employees. If they do a thing completely wrong, their employer disciplines them or fires them. What is different about the authorized job that necessitates some thing like the PDJ?

Lucero: You go to a law firm, that law firm has basically, in some scenarios, your existence in their hands. What the Supreme Court docket does when they let someone to be a law firm and give them what I consider to be the privilege to exercise regulation, there is certainly a quid professional quo there: You go out and you do no damage. You consider to do fantastic. And the consequence to men and women can be devastating.

CP: In your experience, how do lawyers watch the presiding disciplinary choose? In my thoughts, you might be sort of like the human sources director and that is not truly a place a good deal of folks sense warmly about. Is there any truth of the matter to that comparison?

Lucero: You’re correct, there is not a warm and fuzzy experience about the presiding disciplinary decide or lawyer regulation. I would go out and communicate to bar associations and DA’s places of work and talk to the significance of ethics and professionalism as lawyers. I was when executing a CLE, a continuing legal training, about ethics in Salida. I wished to verify the dates with the chair of the bar affiliation in Salida and he wasn’t available. His secretary claims, “May well I acquire a message?” I said, “Unquestionably, you should convey to so-and-so that Decide Lucero termed.”

Later on on when I went to Salida, I experienced lunch with this chairperson. He stated, “Do you know what it did to me to get this information? That I received a simply call from the presiding disciplinary judge,” quickly thinking it was anything destructive and anything to be feared.

A great deal of folks when they are launched to me say, “Pleasure to fulfill you, Judge. I hope I hardly ever see you yet again.”

CP: From what you know about how other states take care of lawyer self-discipline, is Colorado’s system the norm or does it vary in significant strategies?

Lucero: For a long time, Colorado was the only point out that had a presiding disciplinary judge like what we have, the full method that we have. Arizona has adopted match and Oregon has a modified program, but most jurisdictions are like what Colorado made use of to be.

One of the good reasons other jurisdictions won’t do what Colorado does is due to the fact it can be high-priced. They can get anything accomplished with volunteers. The deans of the profession, so to talk, are very revered persons.

Colorado most likely would have hardly ever transformed but for the truth that Justice Michael Bender became a Supreme Court justice. He was a lawyer in non-public exercise who represented lots of, quite a few respondents — lawyers who had been charged in the disciplinary procedure — and he noticed quite a few flaws. I will not feel there’s the power or the drive or I have not found it so significantly in other jurisdictions to be wiling to say, “Okay, we are going to need to be ready to increase our spending budget and pay out a PDJ.”

CP: During your time as presiding disciplinary decide, had been there trends in the forms of scenarios that you saw? Did selected problems turn into far more widespread or considerably less popular around time?

Lucero: When I very first began, the scenarios were being what I would contact rather uncomplicated and straightforward. Most conclusions had been built in a listening to and most hearings would previous a person working day or two days. What I noticed as a pattern normally is the complexity of the cases is increasing.

There are a selection of legal professionals, and I believe some of them ended up in Colorado, who ended up encouraging or arguing in court docket that the (2020 presidential) election was stolen. Their evidence of that was zilch, essentially. That’s an situation the Office of Legal professional Regulation Counsel may possibly finish up acquiring to appear at, if the law firm is accredited in Colorado. So instances like that can be extremely advanced. There were being a couple of situations we experienced oil and gasoline scenarios.

A good deal of regulation college students want to clerk for an appellate judge — Supreme Court docket or Courtroom of Appeals or federal 10th Circuit. That’s terrific working experience due to the fact you learn how to generate and you find out a lot about published advocacy. Some people want to go and work as a clerk for a district courtroom judge that hears circumstances. And that is excellent for hearing in-courtroom advocacy on your feet — the kind of advocacy that led me to want to become a demo attorney.

And in the presiding disciplinary judge’s court docket, you get equally. Here’s the other nuance to it: It could be a divorce scenario. It could possibly be an oil and fuel scenario. It may well be an election fraud scenario. These are the specifics in which the circumstance requires area. But there is also the overlay of how are the regulations of qualified conduct implicated in these situations? Then you have to compose an belief. People circumstances provide rules for attorneys in how they ought to conduct themselves.

CP: Are you authorized to say whether any 2020 election scenarios came to the PDJ in your remaining months there?

Lucero: Which is still percolating. I believe Rudy Giuliani has been briefly suspended in New York. Almost nothing like that has ever reached the presiding disciplinary decide right here.

It won’t have to be that situation. At any time a law firm will take a posture in court that they know or really should know not to be true, it gets an challenge. Attorneys should not do that. I understand totally that la
wyers have to be zealous in symbolizing their customers, but the other aspect of the challenge is a obligation, as an officer of the courtroom, to the judicial technique and the lawful occupation.

CP: At last, what tips did you give your successor, Bryon Big?

Lucero: I didn’t actually have to give him significantly recommendation. He worked in the Business of Lawyer Regulation Counsel as a prosecutor for about six several years and appeared in my court docket. He realized how we litigated situations.

One of the big challenges with the presiding disciplinary choose is retaining independence. That’s so very important. When I go out and converse to groups about the presiding disciplinary position — at one position when I was going to nationwide conventions with the National Council of Lawyer Disciplinary Boards, they see my identify tag and see “William Lucero, Presiding Disciplinary Choose of Colorado.” They glimpse at it and say, “Oh, you work for (the head of the Place of work of Legal professional Regulation Counsel).”

We need to show, no, that would be like acquiring the DA in Denver go in excess of to Mike Martinez, who’s the main choose (of the Denver District Court), and say, “I’m your boss and here is what you are gonna do.” There is certainly gotta be that separation between not only the Office environment of Legal professional Regulation Counsel but with lawyers who represent respondent lawyers.

Even although you do the job for the Supreme Court, you have to be doing your work impartial of them. I won’t be able to just be rubber stamping what they want done. I explained to Bryon there are likely to be some lonely times. It truly is not like a district court docket situation in which you have got a difficult challenge and you walk down the hall and you speak to your colleagues and you share. Which is really much the culture in most jurisdictions. You have that camaraderie and you can share and it really is Ok.

You you should not have that here.