Denver Bar Association
April 2003
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In the Beginning: Original Docketeer Robert Kapelke remembers the first issue of The Docket

by Robert Kapelke

There at the creation. In March 1978, a fearless band of wannabe-journalist lawyers gathered in the smoke-filled offices of the Denver Bar Association to make history. Oh, all right. All we were doing was expanding a one-page flyer into a four-page newsletter. But that’s not how we like to remember it.

We trudged uphill through three feet of snow each day to meet our deadlines, and we trudged uphill again through three martinis after putting the paper to bed at midnight. In the midst of a dense blue fog generated by his omnipresent cheroot, Art Frazin (our own Ben Bradley knockoff) presided in the newsroom, assigning such fast-breaking stories as, "Estate Planners Hold Charitable Remainders Sale."

John Mulvihill raced to meet the back-breaking monthly deadline for his astrology column, as excited readers waited by their mailboxes for his starry guidance. ( August: "Take a negligence case, read the Decameron, or at least the Uniform Commercial Code. As Uranus moves into the House of Capricorn be there to take pictures.")

Behind a giant ink pot and a stack of pens, our beloved, owlish cartoonist, Phil Dufford, sketched away frantically, as ace photographer Fred Rodgers reviewed his Brownie camera manual for the twelfth time, in a final attempt to discover the secret of that little black button.

During his five-minute Jack Daniels breaks between news stories, Jeff "Buffy" Welborn would deliver hilarious deadpan monologues to keep us at least semi-conscious in order to make deadline. Me? I was a combination copy boy and cub reporter, not unlike Billy Batson, but lacking his superhuman powers.

The only real journalist on board was our editor, Larry Weiss. As he read our slipshod copy, he would gnaw on his paisley bow tie in frustration and ponder a career switch to chiropractic medicine. I’m told that Chuck Turner later sent the tie to the Smithsonian, where it occupies an enviable position between a Gutenberg press and the fabled Rosebud sled.

A few months into our silly venture, we received a nasty letter from Pamela Hultin, challenging a Dufford column that had suggested that a women’s bar association was not a great idea. As punishment for her chutzpah, we immediately added Pam to the Docket staff.

At the time, we were proud of what we thought of as the light, breezy style of The Docket. Looking back at those early issues now, I think "sophomoric and pointless" more aptly captures that style. But we did have a whole lot of chuckles and some warm camaraderie way back then, a quarter of a century ago.

It was brave and, yes, foolhardy for then-DBA president Bill McClearn to launch The Docket that April Fools’ Day. (Coincidence? I think not.) Bill was not all that optimistic about its chances of survival, and for good reason, I’m sure.

Nowadays, The Docket features valuable columns on improving law practice, pithy reviews of movies, books, and restaurants, and informative profiles of our bench and bar colleagues. The quality of the paper stock is impressive, the layout is eye-catching, and Diane Hartman’s editing is peerless. But you know what? I confess to still having a nostalgic yearning for just one more clever Dufford cartoon or maybe even one more goofy Mulvihill astrology column. Happy 25th, Docketeers! As we used to say in the editing room, "You done good!"


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