This month Colorado Law pays tribute to Jean S. Breitenstein, a man who is part of the school’s long history of alumni in the judiciary. Breitenstein was born in 1900, and his family moved to Boulder, Colorado from their home in Iowa when he was seven years old. He grew up in Boulder, and attended the University of Colorado both as an undergraduate and as a law student. Breitenstein passed the Colorado bar examination a full year before finishing law school, and was fully admitted to the bar after he graduated Order of the Coif from Colorado Law in 1924.
Following his graduation from Colorado Law, Breitenstein moved to Craig, Colorado where he began his legal career and discovered what would become a lifelong interest in water law. He eventually became the preeminent authority in the western states on water law issues. After spending a year in Craig, Breitenstein moved to Denver, where he practiced up until his appointment to the bench in 1954. He served as assistant attorney general for the state from 1925 to 1929, and then from 1929 to 1933 Breitenstein served as an assistant U.S. attorney for Colorado. For the remainder of his career as a practicing lawyer, Breitenstein was a solo practitioner. He shared an office for many years with another notable Colorado Law alum, Ralph Carr (Colorado’s 29th governor). Breitenstein was a renowned trial lawyer, and as such he was frequently called upon to act as co-counsel for other lawyers on cases that were especially complicated or difficult.
President Dwight Eisenhower appointed Breitenstein to the U.S. District Court for District of Colorado in 1954. Three years later, Eisenhower appointed Breitenstein to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. Breitenstein served on the court for almost 30 years, becoming a senior judge in 1970. During that time, he often sat outside the Tenth Circuit on important assignments at the request of the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Breitenstein served on the court until the week before he died, and was honored by his colleagues on the Tenth Circuit with a formal resolution commemorating his life and service.
In addition to a classroom in the Wolf Law Building in his name, Breitenstein’s legacy lives on in a special way at Colorado Law. In 1969, the judge’s former law clerks partnered with Colorado Law and the University of Colorado Foundation to establish a scholarship fund in Breitenstein’s honor. The first Breitenstein Scholarship of $350 was awarded in 1972, and since then nearly 50 scholarships have been awarded to third-year students who intend to enter private practice in Colorado, and the award has grown to $11,350. “Funding for the scholarship has come almost entirely from law clerk donations over the years,” said former clerk Pete Wall (’63), who helped found the scholarship and led efforts to generate support for the scholarship fund in 2012. “Our goal was–and still is–for this to be the best and most prestigious scholarship at Colorado Law.”