Calhoun: Wake-Up Call

A Judge's Suicide: We, the Jury

After years of being studiously – insultingly – ignored, I was finally called up for jury duty in Denver District Court a few years ago. I was eager to do my civic duty, particularly since the courtroom where I was sent along with dozens of other potential jurors was set to hear a bar-assault case -- and who better than I to weigh that sort of evidence?

Slowly the lawyers worked their way through prospective jurors, asking them their attitudes about the law, about liquor, and the jury pool started emptying out. Soon it looked like I might even make it into the jury box. But then the judge turned his attention to the line of would-be (and a few desperate-not-to-be) jurors sitting in the front row. “Ms. Calhoun,” he said. “You wouldn’t have any trouble arriving at an opinion, would you?”

The judge was Denver District Court Judge Larry Manzanares, whom I’d never met personally, but whose legal career I’d certainly followed. “But your Honor,” I responded. “It would be a fair opinion based on all the evidence.” He laughed, both the prosecution and defense lawyers declined to question me further, and I reluctantly gave up my Twelve Angry Men fantasies and went back to work.

Manzanares was right: I wouldn’t have had any trouble arriving at an opinion then, and I haven’t in the curious case of his life and death. By all accounts, he was a fine lawyer, friend and neighbor, and his suicide last Friday is immensely sad. So it’s understandable that people are looking for easy answers to Manzaneres’ unfathomable end, but for his supporters to cry racism, as a Hispanic bar organization did yesterday, is ludicrous. (A silk-stocking lawyer who moved from 17th Street to City Hall would have been treated the same.) And to blame the media -- because it first repeated the nitwitted story that Manzanares gave about buying a computer in a parking lot (just a few feet from the building where he was, briefly, Denver City Attorney), and subsequently publicized the discovery of porn on that computer, which was actually property of the court – is simply wrong.

The Rocky Mountain News did not put that computer in Manzanares’s hands. Or the gun, either. – Patricia Calhoun

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun