Michael Bender ('67)

Alumni of the Month Apr '13

Chief Justice Bender

This month, Colorado Law honors another of our highly distinguished alums, and the recipient of our 2013 William Lee Knous Award, Michael L. Bender. Bender, the son of a former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, was born in the Bronx and grew up in nearby Westchester County. It was during a summer break from his undergraduate studies at Dartmouth College that Bender decided to venture west for the first time, and he fell in love with the mountains while spending the summer working on a road construction crew in Wyoming. Bender graduated from Dartmouth in 1964, and enrolled in law school at Colorado Law, where he earned his JD in 1967. While in law school, Bender clerked in the Adams County public defender’s office for a man named John Kane, who would go on to become a federal judge for the District of Colorado. Following law school, Bender began a fellowship at the Institute of Criminal Law and Procedure at Georgetown University Law Center.

Bender’s career path has included both public and private practice. In 1968, he joined the Colorado Public Defender’s office, serving as deputy state public defender. He spent a year as an associate attorney in the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Denver office, and in 1975 he joined the Jefferson County Public Defender’s Office as a supervising attorney. Bender served as division chief of the Denver Public Defender’s Office for two years before joining the Los Angeles office of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher. He returned to Denver in 1979 and started a solo practice, which he maintained for several years before founding Bender and Treece. He practiced at the firm until 1993, when he resumed a solo practice.

Bender’s judicial career began in 1997, when then-governor Roy Romer (’52) appointed Bender to the Colorado Supreme Court. Then, in 2010, Bender’s fellow justices voted to appoint Bender to his current position as the court’s 44th chief justice. In addition to his role as a justice on the court, Bender is responsible for overseeing the 3,500 employees that make up the state’s judicial system. One of Bender’s legacies is the creation of the Chief Justice Commission on the Legal Profession, which serves to foster a commitment to service, excellence, respect, and ethics among members of the Colorado legal community. He was also instrumental in reorganizing the state’s attorney discipline system, and oversaw construction of the newly completed Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center in Denver, home of both the Colorado Court of Appeals and the Colorado Supreme Court.

In his years in practice and on the bench, Bender has earned numerous honors. In 1988, the Denver Bar Association named him Outstanding Volunteer Lawyer of the Year. He received the Outstanding Service Award from the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers in 1990, and was selected as Colorado’s Outstanding Judicial Officer of the Year in 2000. Colorado Law has honored Bender on two occasions: first, with the Distinguished Achievement Award in 2006, and then again this spring with the William Lee Knous Award – Colorado Law’s highest honor in recognition of outstanding achievement and sustained service. In addition, he has been an adjunct professor at both the University of Denver College of Law, where he taught criminal law, criminal trial advocacy, and employment discrimination law, and at Colorado Law, where he taught ethics. Bender represents what is best about Colorado Law, and we are honored to call him one of our own.


Five Questions for Chief Justice Bender

What is your fondest memory of being a student at Colorado Law?

Working with the Colorado Law Students Civil Rights Research Council.

What do you know now that you wish you had known in law school?

Lots! Really though, being a lawyer can be a lot more fun than it appears in law school, because there’s no comparison between reading cases and connecting with real people.

What advice would you give to current students as they’re preparing to graduate?

It’s very important to follow your dreams. Don’t give up on what your fervent hopes are.

Who was the biggest influence on your career?

John Kane.

Of what accomplishment are you most proud?

Being selected by my colleagues to be the Chief Justice.

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