Rohn K. Robbins
Vail Law

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August 27, 2013
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Vail Daily column: What do judges do?

Going from Beaver Creek to Strawberry Park to Bachelor Gulch is one of my favorite biking hills. The grueling climb is rewarded by a thrilling descent down Daybreak Ridge, then a near straight-shot down Bachelor Gulch Road. If you have the breath to take it in, the scenery is spectacular.

Among local cyclists, the climb has been known since time immemorial — or at least since roughly the time the road was first paved — simply as “Beaver Creek to Bachelor Gulch.”

Now that the USA Pro Challenge has cruised through, however, it has apparently been renamed “The Brink.” God bless the marketing guys.

Thursday last, I was grinding up “The Brink” (OK, maybe “grinding” is a bit of an exaggeration — mostly, I was using just one gear) with several hundred of my friends. All of us were on our way to the races.

To be precise, we were riding to the KOM finish line (for those of you less versed in cycling lingo, KOM means King of the Mountain); we were riding to the tippy top of the murderous climb to witness the pro cyclists come through, to cheer them on and to determine if they were mortals.

For the record, one or two of them at least were not; they were more like griffins, those legendary beasts with the body of a lion and the wings of an eagle. It was humbling to see that they were quicker with 100 miles under their Spandex when they hit the climb than we were with 10 or so under ours.

While we were standing on the steepest part of the climb waiting for the fractured peloton to huff through, we met a group of friends. Except for the cracks of lightning, hail and a downpour of rain, it was a jolly time.

Judges judge

At last, as if to announce the king’s court passing through, a judge’s car zipped up the hill, reaffirming 180 horsepower is less effort that of one griffin.

One of my friends turned to me and said, “You’re the lawyer. What do judges do?”

Of course, she meant the judges in a pro cycling race.

“Well,” I said, “they judge.”

And then I got to thinking … What do regular plain ol’ vanilla judges do?

The answer is not as simple as you might think.

But, fundamentally, they judge.

‘You Never know what you’re gonna get’

Well, duh. But what does “judge” really mean?

First, it means a judge must be fully versed in the law. As Forrest Gump once cannily observed, “Law is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”

What Forrest meant by that, I’m sure, is that lawsuits come in about a million flavors. Some involve injuries. Some involve contract disputes. Some involve crimes. Some involve divorce. The flavors are nearly as infinite as the human capacity to not get along.

So first, a judge has to be on his legal game.

Knowing the facts

Second, a judge has to be up on the facts of the particular case. Facts are the mortar to the bricks of a lawsuit. One cannot hold the theory of the law together without the proper aggregate and lime. So the judge in a particular action must become immersed in the this-and-that of the particular dispute.

Next, the judge acts as a tour guide and referee. She sets various rules that will apply to the particular case as it advances toward a resolution, resolves disputes and shapes the case before it goes to trial. This can — and most time does — involve making various interlocutory rulings as the matter edges toward a trial date.

Whoa, there, Robbins; “inter-what-atory?”

Sure, let me ’splain.

Football analogy

Think of an “interlocutory” ruling, if you will, as a play or a series of plays in a game of football. It is something that advances the ball and which may ultimately lead to a score, but it is not the final tally when the fourth quarter whistle blows. An interlocutory matter is one which intervenes between the beginning and the end of a lawsuit to decide a particular point that is not the final issue of the entire dispute.

In other words, “interlocutory” matters are skirmishes along the path to trial. And an important part of the judge’s impost is to resolve these matters as they arise in order to whip the controversy into its final shape. Most times these petite (no, not petty) matters are taken up by way of motions and hearings that the judge resolves in a “yea” or “nay” or “get outta here” manner.

Overseeing trials

Then there is the trial.

There, judges help select the jury, shape what instructions will aid the jury in its deliberations, make rulings on evidence and objections, act like traffic cops to keep things flowing and guide the matter toward a peaceful denouement.

What do judges do? Well, in the end they keep the peace and they help keep civil society, well … civil.

Precisely what they do in a bike race, I really have no idea, but, I presume, they resolve this dispute or that or weigh in on a rule or two.

But hey, I’m just some grunt with a head full of law, torturing uphill in my granny gear. What do I know about the Lords of Velo?

Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley with the law firm of Stevens, Littman, Biddision, Tharp and Weinberg LLC. His areas include business and commercial transactions, real estate and development, family law, custody, divorce and civil litigation. He may be heard on Wednesdays at 7 p.m. on KZYR radio (97.7 FM) and seen on ECOTV 18 as host of “Community Focus.” Robbins may be reached at 970-926-4461 or at either of his email addresses, robbins@slblaw.com or robbins@colorado.net.


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The VailDaily Updated Aug 27, 2013 09:11PM Published Aug 28, 2013 12:39PM Copyright 2013 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.