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GPHN Exclusive: 7 Questions For Melissa Hart

Colorado’s Newest Supreme On Law, Liberty And The Movies

By Cara DeGette

Editor, GPHN

The second time was the charm for Melissa Hart, a Park Hill resident, East High grad, and Colorado’s newest Supreme Court Justice.

In December, Gov. John Hickenlooper appointed Hart to the high court. Hickenlooper, who also calls Park Hill home, picked Hart from a field of three women finalists. The others were attorney Marcy Glenn (who also lives in Park Hill) and the Hon. Pattie Swift, a judge in Alamosa. Hart was also a finalist in 2015 for the state’s highest court.

Hart is a 1995 Harvard Law School graduate, a University of Colorado Law School professor and director of the Byron R. White Center for the study of American Constitutional Law. A left-leaning Democrat, she replaces conservative Allison Eid, who was appointed by President Donald Trump to the 10th U.S. Circuit of Appeals.

The Greater Park Hill News caught up with Hart just before the holidays.

Gov. John Hickenlooper, announcing Melissa Hart as his pick for the Colorado Supreme Court in December.

Greater Park Hill News: When Gov. Hickenlooper was talking about your appointment, he was quoted describing you as having a reputation as a liberal academic, and also bringing a “pro-business sense.” What ideas did you mention during your interview, that puts you in the “pro-business” category as a Colorado Supreme Court justice?

Melissa Hart: What I said to the Governor is that I would not be “pro” or “anti” any category of litigant but that I believed that every litigant wanted a Justice who was committed to writing clear, consistent opinions that would provide predictability. For all litigants and district judges having rules that are understandable, that are easily applicable, and that allow parties to evaluate the risks and costs of litigation is essential. I believe that is what the Governor perceived as pro-business in my approach.

GPHN: You have a reputation as being committed to improving access to justice, as the costs of legal services have become unattainable for many. How can you address that from the high court?

MH: The justices of the Colorado Supreme Court are responsible for administering both the court system and the legal profession. There are lots of innovative ideas around the country about how to increase access to justice. Colorado has been a leader in making services for self-represented litigants more user-friendly. We could explore many other ways to make the system more user-friendly and to make legal services less expensive. Among the many things that other states are looking at are: creating a second-tier professional legal status – like a medical assistant but in the legal profession; moving some uncontested disputes out of the legal system; and helping young lawyers build practices that are more efficient and can charge lower hourly rates. All of these are things that the Colorado system could explore, and my goal on the Court will be to support any exploration of new ideas to make our system work better for everyone.

Justice Melissa Hart, with the other six Colorado Supremes. From left, Chief Justice Nancy E. Rice, Jus- tice Nathan B. Coats, Justice Monica M. Marquez, Hart, Justice Brian D. Boatright, Justice William W. Hood, Justice Richard L. Gabriel. Photos courtesy of Melissa Hart.

GPHN: Your grandfather was Archibald Cox, who holds a pretty important place in history as special prosecutor during the Watergate scandal and whose firing Richard Nixon ordered in what became known as the Saturday Night Massacre. What would your grandfather think of the current state of affairs in Washington, and what would he say of the Robert Mueller investigation?

MH: I have no doubt that my grandfather would be very concerned about the current state of affairs in Washington. He was a principled but practical man who truly believed in the power of law to ensure order and also to improve our collective circumstances. The attacks on the rule of law and the basic idea of a fair and impartial judiciary that we have seen this year would, I am sure, have dismayed him.

GPHN: It’s my understanding that your mom was one of the first single moms to practice law in Colorado. What is the best advice your mom gave you? What is the worst?

MH: My mom is one of my heroes in life. She worked so hard, and in such a pioneering time, to be a successful lawyer and a successful mom. I think she did both extremely well. It is hard for me to think of specific best and worst advice, though I would say she always told me – and modeled for me – that you have to live up to your commitments and come through for people. I try to live by that principle.

GPHN: Can you describe a defining moment or experience while you were a student at East High School that has stayed with you through the years?

MH: I loved East. I am really thrilled that my daughter is now a freshman there. My fondest memories from East were in the theater and forensics programs. In mid-December, my daughter travelled to Cheyenne, Wyoming for a debate competition. I will never forget the competition I attended in Cheyenne, where I did the speech event called Original Oratory. I wrote and delivered a speech about self-reliance and independent judgment. The judge in Cheyenne ranked me rather low and said to me in the comments that my ideas just didn’t go over well in Wyoming. I remember thinking we had obviously had a total disconnect, as my ideas were rather conservative and probably just the thing that would go over in Wyoming. But somehow the way I expressed them came out entirely differently. I often remember that moment when I am interacting with people and realize we are perceiving the communication very differently.

GPHN: You were at the top of your class at Harvard Law School. Where was Ted Cruz in the mix? (Also, can you provide any insight into Ted Cruz?)

MH: I am going to skip this one!

GPHN: What are Melissa Hart’s Top 5 all-time favorite lawyer movies?

MH: In no specific order: To Kill a Mockingbird, My Cousin Vinny, Inherit the Wind, Philadelphia, and The Accused.

“Melissa Hart has all of the qualities needed to succeed as a justice of the Colorado Supreme Court. Her expertise on how to ensure equal and fair access to justice will be of great value to the policy-making role of the Supreme Court. I look forward to watching her career as a justice unfold.”

— Mary Mullarkey, former Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice and fellow Park Hill resident, sharing her thoughts with the Greater Park Hill News on Melissa Hart’s appointment. Mullarkey served as Chief Justice for 12 years, the longest term of any Colorado justice, until her retirement in 2010.

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