Nearly 500 students, faculty, the state's leading water attorneys, undergraduate university students, high school students, and members of the community at large watched today as the Colorado Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the Burlington Ditch (also known as FRICO) case.
The case, which some have described as "the water case of the century," attracted enormous attention because of a series of interrelated water issues that involve some of the state's largest irrigation districts as well as a whole group of municipalities including the city and county of Denver. The water involved in the case is located near Barr Lake, a large reservoir a short distance north of Denver International Airport.
Nearly 200 packed the Sturm College of Law courtroom, with another 150 in an adjacent room that had live streaming video. When that room filled to capacity, a third room was opened for those interested in hearing the argument.
Before the oral argument began, Dean Marty Katz welcomed the Supreme Court and noted that having the court hear arguments at the College of Law reflected DU's commitment to bringing the practice of law closer to students. This is part of the College of Law's objective to prepare "practice ready" lawyers, Dean Katz said.
Dean Katz also said that the day represented an especially proud one since the College of Law has "one of the oldest and best natural resources programs in the country. The University of Denver began teaching about natural resources in the late 1800s, and water law has been one of our offerings."
Following the oral argument, the lawyers who argued both sides of the case re-assembled in a nearby room where they fielded questions from students about appellate advocacy and what lessons the students could take from what they had just seen in the courtroom. The attorneys who took part in the question and answer session included John P. Akolt III, David C. Hallford, Willam A. Hillhouse II, Brian M. Nazarenus, Steven O. Sims, and Star L. Waring.
Student volunteers from the College of Law's Water Law Review escorted the justices around the law building.
Following a second oral argument, which involved a matter of statutory interpretation, the Supreme Court, members of the faculty, and student volunteers had lunch in the faculty library.
Don C. Smith, Director of the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Program at the College of Law, said the day had been of enormous value for the entire law school community. "What our students saw today was appellate advocacy at its finest before the Colorado Supreme Court. So much can be learned from watching oral arguments before a court of the Colorado court's stature.
"There can be few more influential learning experiences than that provided by observing a skillful court posing insightful questions to advocates involving one of the most important cases the Supreme Court will rule on this year. The fact that the attorneys who argued the case were willing to entertain nearly one hour's worth of questions from students exemplified the tremendous professionalism of this stellar group of water lawyers, who together represent a "Who's Who" among water experts in the American west."
In summary, today was a tremendous experience for everyone at the College of Law, Mr. Smith said.
"I think it is safe to say that today's event will long be remembered by those who attended. The lessons learned will be of use to all of our students throughout their entire careers," Mr. Smith said. "It was a distinct honor and pleasure for the College of Law to host this important case and the Colorado Supreme Court."
Editor's note: In the top picture, the Colorado Supreme Court hears an argument from one of the attorneys. In the second picture, the attorneys participating in the oral argument respond to questions from students. Photos by Wayne Armstrong, University of Denver.