2012 DBA Award Winners: Five Honored for Service to Legal, Greater Community
by Sara Crocker
he Denver Bar Association’s Annual Awards honor those who have made extraordinary contributions to the legal community. They all are genuinely dedicated to serving their peers and the community through their volunteer efforts with the DBA and other organizations.
Award of Merit: Elsa Martinez Tenreiro
Elsa Martinez Tenreiro joined the DBA shortly after graduating from law school because she felt it was important for young attorneys to be involved in the community. She was particularly drawn to volunteering efforts that focused on working with the public.
"I thought if I got involved with the bar association and tried to promote lawyers as good, upstanding models in the community, that would be something that I would benefit from and the bar would benefit from," she said.
Martinez Tenreiro’s list of volunteer activities is extensive. She has served on the Democracy Education, Access to Justice, Community Action Network, and Diversity in the Legal Profession committees. She volunteers with Metro Volunteer Lawyers (and served on its board), with the high school mock trial program, and with a "Dream Team"—a small group of attorneys, judges, law students, and legal professionals who work in the community to encourage diverse and under-represented groups to consider a career in law. She was president of the DBA from 2007 to 2008.
In the last year, Martinez Tenreiro has worked with her two partners to open Alvarado, LaForett & Martinez Tenreiro, LLC.
"I think that every time I go to the office, I get to help somebody," she said.
She also has received a great deal of support for her volunteer work from her family. She and her husband Steve Theis have two daughters—Alexandra and Samantha. They live in Elizabeth with Martinez Tenreiro’s mother.
"My family is my reason for being," she said.
Martinez Tenreiro was surprised when she found out she would receive the DBA’s highest honor.
"The quality of the people that receive this award is tremendous," Martinez Tenreiro said. "To be grouped in that category of person that deserves that award—it’s just a tremendous, tremendous honor."
She added she wouldn’t have been able to realize the goals of the DBA initiatives she has led without the help of other members.
"Whatever it is that I have accomplished, it wasn’t alone," she said. "I’m just one little piece."
Volunteer of the Year: Erich Bethke
When Erich Bethke began volunteering with the DBA, he was drawn to the activities that got him involved with schools.
"I just find that working in the schools and with students and teachers—it’s a particularly enthusiastic, it’s a particularly creative, and I think an exciting environment," he said.
Bethke, a co-chair of the DBA’s Democracy Education Committee, has been key in piloting the PALS (for Partner Alliance of Lawyers and Schools) program. It is an offshoot of the Guest Teacher Initiative.
In PALS, three attorneys are assigned to a school and they commit to volunteer there for one year. What they do to help in the classroom depends on the needs of the school, Bethke said. The point of PALS is to "show to the schools and the students that attorneys are more than just people who go to court—that they have a commitment to the community and they want to have some fun and help students," he said.
When in the classroom, "you have to be a little flexible," Bethke said. "Sometimes it’s a little wild and wooly."
Still, it’s a rewarding experience.
"It is fun. They’re good kids," he said.
He’s able to balance everything with the support of his firm, Senn Visciano Canges, which makes him feel, "that it’s something that I’m not taking away from my business day but that it’s an important part of my business day," Bethke said.
He enjoys being on the DEC because of its flexibility and receptiveness to new ideas. He also said projects like PALS would not have been accomplished without the help of others: "You’re not just pulling your own oar; you’ve got a team that’s pulling with you."
Young Lawyer of the Year:
Troy Rackham is a self-proclaimed introvert, but it’s hard to tell once he starts talking about his involvement with the DBA.
Rackham is a mentor in the DBA Mentoring Program and the DBA’s delegate to the American Bar Association. He volunteers with the mock trial program, scoring or serving as a presiding judge, and he previously coached a team. He does pro bono work through Metro Volunteer Lawyers. He also gives his time to the CBA on various committees and sections, he teaches CLEs, and he volunteers in the community. He and his wife, Michala, have four children.
Rackham concedes that sleep probably suffers, but says he balances work, life, and play by regularly taking stock of what matters.
"You have to decide, on a pretty regular basis, what is valuable to you and devote your time and efforts to that which is valuable to you. Because if not, your practice can take over and prevent you from devoting time to your family, or to your profession, or to other things you might care about," said Rackham, who is of counsel at Fennemore Craig.
Pro bono is particularly important to Rackham.
"The clients, at the end of the experience, appreciate so much the legal services you provide and I think leave with an impression of the legal profession that’s profound," he said.
He has enjoyed volunteering with the DBA and CBA because it’s given him opportunities to get to know many different people in the legal community.
"You get great perspective from those lawyers about the challenges that the legal profession faces," he said.
Judicial Excellence: Daniel Taubman
Colorado Court of Appeals Judge Daniel Taubman has long been a champion of access to justice.
He serves on the Access to Justice Commission and the Chief Justice Commission on the Legal Profession in a group focused on access to justice. He also helped found the Colorado Bar Association’s Appellate Pro Bono Program.
"Judges can exercise a leadership role by demonstrating to other judges, and demonstrating to lawyers, and finally demonstrating to members of the public at large that judges believe we should have a judicial system that’s easily accessible to all people, no matter what their economic status may be," he said.
Taubman has been involved with We The People, a program that works to enhance students' understanding of democracy and helps them to identify the contemporary relevance of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, for 15 years and has coached a WTP team at Grandview High School for the last few years.
He also is active in his synagogue, a gourmet club, other CBA sections and committees, and Our Courts, where he teaches about the legal system in Spanish—a language he became fluent in while in Peru as a Peace Corps member.
Taubman, who has sat on the Colorado Court of Appeals for 19 years, said the court has an ethos of participating with bar associations and in the community: "I think there’s a place for all lawyers and judges to participate in bar activities. ... I think that there’s an opportunity for you to become involved and help in some way to improve the judicial system."
Teacher of the Year: Elizabeth Correa-Leslie
When Elizabeth Correa-Leslie was approached by a student who told her that the constitution scholars class she teaches was taking up too much of his time, time that he could spend doing working on "more important" subjects like math, her response was simple:
"I looked at him and I said, ‘Yeah, because being a critical voter will never help you," she said. "He just looked at me and I said, ‘This is what civics is.’"
The Abraham Lincoln High School teacher works to show her students how the government can affect their daily lives so that they grow into "critical citizens" after they leave her class and high school.
"That’s what high school is, preparing those kids to become good critical young adult thinkers." she said.
Correa-Leslie has taught at ALHS for 10 years, and early in her teaching career, she was approached about getting students involved in We The People. It’s evolved into her constitutional scholars class, and she coaches a student WTP team. Though it can be challenging, it’s also exciting to see her students grow and learn in the process, Correa says.
Because WTP focuses on oral responses, she also has attorneys in her classroom who serve as mentors; they offer a big confidence boost for her students.
"That empowers them so much," she said. "[The attorney mentors are] a good role model and [the students] just feel that they can actually do this. They have the ability to actually succeed. They have people who care enough and are telling them they can do this—not just me." D
See individual video interviews with the honorees: