Colorado Supreme Court
Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel
Promoting Professionalism. Protecting the Public.
John Baker, stalwart of Colorado legal community, retiring
The Director of the Colorado Attorney Mentoring Program is loved as much for his genuine personality as for his stellar resume.
By JAMES CARLSON
If you’re walking down a hallway with attorney John Baker, you’re not likely to get far without him stopping to chat with someone — a judge, a lawyer, the nearby janitor.
“It doesn’t matter who it is, he’s charming and engaging,” said John Tatlock, special counsel with The Harris Law Firm. “He’s got the common touch. No one is beneath him.”
John Baker is retiring next month from the Colorado Attorney Mentoring Program, where he served as the programs’ first Director. You could spend a lot of time hearing about his professional accomplishments. You could hear how Baker spent two decades as a successful plaintiff’s lawyer. You could hear about the 74 presentations he’s made to local, national, and international groups. You could hear about his stint running the National Institute for Trial Advocacy, or his time as President of the Denver Bar Association, or how in his three years leading CAMP, he grew the number of mentoring programs in the state from four to nearly 30.
But if you ask anyone who’s known him well in his four decades as an attorney, the first thing they mention are not the bullet points on his resume. It’s that he’s the real deal, an authentic and kind person, both professionally and personally.
“Whether it’s a 15-year-old, a law student or a judge, he actually listens. He actually cares,” said Katayoun Donnelly, a Denver private practitioner. “He’s thinking about what you said. He wants to get to know you. He genuinely wants to help.”
Baker was born in Leadville, Colorado, at 10,718 feet above sea level. He laughs when recalling how his dad used to say the effects of altitude turned his son into a plaintiff’s attorney – born with a big heart and an oxygen-starved brain.
He graduated from the University of Denver College of Law in 1973, and after a short time as a clinical instructor, Baker joined the firm Carrigan & Bragg (later becoming Bragg & Baker). For the next 26 years, he handled high profile complex mass tort litigations. Sometime in the 1980s, Baker met Mark Fogg, who at the time served as defense counsel for health-care related claims. (Fogg later became general counsel for COPIC and served as president of the Colorado Bar Association.) Though on opposite sides of cases, Fogg recalls Baker always being collegial. The two would become good friends, a not-too-common occurrence among plaintiffs and defense attorneys.
Senior partners noticed this as well and would admonish Baker for being too friendly with opposing counsel. But being anything other than himself just wouldn’t work.
“Life’s too short for that,” Baker said. “I genuinely like lawyers. They’re committed to something outside themselves. Their clients, their causes, their profession.”
John Baker is praised by a lot of people, but Jessica Kosares may be his biggest fan. She’s also his daughter.
An attorney at Alderman Bernstein, Kosares said her father has always been her moral compass. “I joke that it’s not, ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ It’s, ‘What Would John Do?’” She remembers sitting in on a deposition in which the opposing attorney was asking his client very personal questions. It was borderline harassment that Baker felt was solely meant to break down his client. He didn’t curse, he didn’t yell, but he stepped in and told the other attorney he thought she was out of line. The opposing counsel was a relatively young attorney, and she was visibly shaken by being called out.
After the deposition concluded, Baker felt bad that the other attorney felt bad. So soon afterward, he called the attorney and made amends. He was in the right, Kosares said. He didn’t have to apologize, but he felt it was the professional thing to do as a lawyer and the right thing to do as a human.
“There is so much compassion and integrity in everything he does,” Kosares said.
When she was young, he was as involved as any other parent. He was the president of the PTA and the coach of her soccer team, and he read to his children every night. At the time, he was handling class action lawsuits, and now as an attorney herself, Kosares has a heightened admiration for her father’s ability to juggle everything.
“No matter what else is going on, he really has the ability to make you feel like the most important person in his life at that moment,” she said.
Baker always thought he’d spend his life in public service. His professional life took him into private practice, but he found his opportunity to serve in other ways.
He was the President of the Denver Bar Association and has served on countless committees, councils and commissions studying the legal profession. He has been instrumental in forging the idea of professionalism.
Fogg remembers getting a call from Baker in 1995 asking if he’d get involved in this group coaching other attorneys who were in conflict with opposing counsel. (The group would later become the Peer Professionalism Assistance Group.) Fogg said Baker became his mentor on the concept of professionalism.
“Back then, it was viewed simply as being nice to each other,” he said. “John really helped me embrace the idea that professionalism embodies everything you are as a lawyer, from how you interact with other attorneys, to how you represent the profession in public, to your community service.”
Mariana Vielma first met Baker at a Colorado Bar Association Leadership Training course in 2009. It was held in Glenwood Springs in a terrible snow storm. None of the other speakers made it out there. But John was there.
He told Vielma and the other COBALT students that, like it or not, lawyers are seen as models in the community. “I had not yet been practicing two years, and his talk meant a lot to me and my career,” said Vielma, now an assistant county attorney in Adams County. “He got me thinking and making decisions about what type of lawyer I wanted to be, what type of citizen and community member I wanted to be.”
Mentoring has always been a part of that equation to Baker.
Chief Justice Nancy Rice said he’s always been a teacher at heart. “He wants people to do their best, and to enjoy the profession,” she said. “He is one of the most enthusiastic people I know and his enthusiasm is contagious.”
The Colorado Attorney Mentoring Program was implemented three years ago, and Baker was named its Director. Kosares initially thought her father’s role would be a lot of oversight and administration from afar. “But that’s not his style,” she said. “He likes to roll up his sleeves and get to know people. He traveled around the state and got to know everyone.”
Justice Richard L. Gabriel said Baker practices what he preaches even to this day. “I’ve watched him at close range sponsoring mentees,” Justice Gabriel said. “He brings them to events. He introduces them to everyone.”
Baker said he’s most proud of helping turn Colorado’s four pilot mentoring program in 2012 into almost 30 mentoring programs around the state today. Now, attorney Ryann Peyton will take over as Director of CAMP, and Baker will spend time hanging with his grandchildren and fly-fishing. True to his colleagues’ word, though, he won’t be content with that.
“I definitely want to volunteer on a significant pro bono case,” he said, “a major civil rights case or education rights case. That’s how I’d like to help.”
James Carlson is the Information Resources Coordinator for the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel.