Momentous moment for Marquez

New Justice joins state Supreme Court

By Marianne Goodland

Monica Marquez’ journey to the Colorado Supreme Court, where she became its newest justice last week, may have begun with a classroom in a Catholic school in a drug-infested neighborhood in Camden, New Jersey.

Marquez was sworn in as the court’s junior justice on Dec. 10, an oath administered by her father, retired Senior Judge Jose D.L. Marquez, who was the first Hispanic appointed to the Colorado Court of Appeals. The senior Marquez dissolved into tears at the end, and raised his arms in triumph after his oldest daughter finished the oath.

Colorado’s newest state Supreme Court Justice Monica M. Marquez was sworn in last Friday by her father, Senior Judge Jose D.L. Marquez (retired), who signed the official papers in the Old Supreme Court chambers.
Photo by John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman
A quiet moment follows Marquez’ official swearing-in.
Photo by John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman
Chief Deputy Attorney General Cynthia Coffman and Sheila Barthel confer.
Photo by John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman
Marquez takes a moment with her nephew Nick Perez before getting down to the business of the day.
Photo by John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman
Andrew Hudson, brother-in-law to Justice Marquez, and his 1-yr-old daughter Julia.
Photo by John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman

Marquez is the first Latina and first gay woman appointed to the Colorado Supreme Court. She noted that her lineage in the court includes its other ground-breaking women: its first woman justice, Jean Dubofsky, and its first woman chief justice, Mary Mullarkey, whose retirement opened the door to Marquez’ appointment in September by Gov. Bill Ritter.

The Old Supreme Court Chambers at the state Capitol was standing room only for Marquez’ investiture; the ceremony was held there because the new justice center is currently under construction. Marquez is the first justice to be sworn in at the old chambers since Justice James Carrigan took the oath there in 1976, according to former Justice Dubofsky and judicial department staff.

Chief Justice Michael Bender addressed the audience in a ceremony marked as a special session of the court. He referred to as “heartwarming” the many friends, family, dignitaries and public officials who turned out “to honor our newest justice.”

Also in the audience were the two judges that Marquez clerked for: Judge Michael Ponsor of the Massachusetts U.S. District Court, and Judge David Ebel of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.

Ebel said that what stood about Marquez in those days was her intellect, compassion and genuineness. “She had the whole package,” he told The Colorado Statesman. “I knew wherever she went, she would rise to the top.”

Ebel added that he knew Marquez would be “an important influence in Colorado,” whether in political office, which he thought was a possibility, or in the Attorney General’s office. Ebel didn’t think about a judicial career for Marquez at the time, but “once I realized it was a possibility [based on a conversation he had with Marquez] I knew it would come true,” he said.

Wilda Marquez (no relation) of the Colorado Hispanic Bar Association said she met the new justice about nine years ago, and since then they have been activists in the Latino/Latina and legal communities. Wilda Marquez said the new justice “is a very impressive person. You know you’re dealing with someone who is very intelligent, collected and in charge of all of her thoughts” and has a great commitment to her community.

That commitment to public service first appeared right after Marquez graduated from Stanford. In between then and going on to Yale Law School in 1994, Marquez spent three years with inner city youth in Camden, New Jersey and Philadelphia. A beaming Judge Marquez told The Statesman that his daughter didn’t decide to go into the law until after she came back from Camden.

In 1992, Time reporter Kevin Fedarko wrote that Camden was a city of children; nearly half of its 100,000 population was under 21. But “to wander through its neighborhoods is to wonder what America should be doing with towns like this, towns that cry out for help yet seem beyond saving…Many American cities have sinkholes that are just as run-down, burned out, crime ridden and drug infested. The difference is that this describes all of Camden, not just part of it.”

That was the city in which Marquez, then a 22-year-old fresh out of Stanford, found herself in. By then, Marquez was already an experienced world traveler — she was an exchange student in Berlin while in high school and a study abroad student in Berlin and Krakow, Poland, while in college — but Camden was “a third-world city,” she wrote.

In a 1992 article Marquez wrote for Commonweal, a journal for Catholic laypeople, she talked about the city and the children she taught at St. Bartholomew-Parkside School while a member of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. “I admit that life as a Jesuit Volunteer is far from glorious. Some dark, rainy February mornings I arrive at school at 7:20 a.m. and wish I were anywhere else but facing another day with my third-graders.” But on those days, Marquez said, even when she was exasperated, weary and frustrated, she remembers why she was there. “The children of Camden laugh and dance. Daily. And although the Saint Bart’s third-graders know far more than I ever did at their age about drugs and violence, in their journals they record their visions of the future with the unabashed confidence of an eight-year-old American child. These third-graders dream of no less than going to college and becoming doctors and lawyers and scientists and artists and corporate executives. I am touched by their undaunted aspirations.” As a teacher, she said, “we can’t hand these children their dreams” or rescue them from their fates, but by injecting poetry and must and art and science “into the bloodstream of the classroom,” teachers bring children “a tiny step closer to those dreams.”

Marquez experienced an even darker side of Camden, according to a recommendation letter written for the Colorado Supreme Court by Kathleen Nalty, director of the Colorado Campaign for Inclusive Excellence: Marquez was mugged while walking to work through the crime and drug-infested neighborhood east of the I-676 freeway.

The following year, Marquez crossed the Delaware River that separates Camden from Philadelphia and spent a second year as a Jesuit volunteer and teacher, and a third year teaching fourth-graders at St. Carthage Catholic School.

Marquez’ legal career began that fall, in 1994, at Yale, where she was editor of the Yale Law Journal. After clerking for Ponsor and Ebel, Marquez joined the Denver law firm Holme, Roberts and Owen.

Marquez became deputy attorney general in 2002, when she represented the offices of the governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, treasurer and attorney general. In 2009, she was named head of the State Services section, which represents nine of the state’s 16 executive branch agencies.

“She has a deep and serious intellect,” Ritter said in presenting her to the court. “Her analytical ability has been manifest to all,” with a common sense manner that gets results. Marquez also has an apparent and deep respect for the rule of law, Ritter said, and places value on precedent. Ritter also said Marquez embodies the scripture “love justice, be merciful and walk humbly with thy God.”

After she took her seat on the bench of the state’s highest court, Marquez addressed the court and the audience. “There are singular moments remembered vividly and treasured forever, and I look around today and know this is one of those moments.”

Marquez spoke in German, English and Spanish to the many friends, family and colleagues who have been part of her life. “I’ve had my share of adventures,” Marquez said. “It’s been an extraordinary journey to today, and I’m humbled to be sitting here.”

She turned wistful, saying that relationships with many people will change because of the necessary self-isolation of being a justice. “This is some version of farewell,” she said, but know that “my life is infinitely richer because of you.”

To Judge Ponsor, Marquez said he had taught her the basic tools of being a judge: compassion and fairness. “I aspire to be half as eloquent as you.” Judge Ebel, she said, has a “rigorous intellect, insatiable curiosity,” skilled in oral argument, a legendary work ethic and a reputation for being unwaveringly impartial.
To her father, Marquez said “how many people have the fortune to be sworn into the bar and the bench by their fathers?” She praised his “quiet humility” and ability to be mindful of everyone he encounters. And “I can’t figure out who lost the bet on who would cry first,” she said with a smile. (According to Bender, it was Judge Marquez.)

“I look forward, with gratitude, to the adventure that awaits.”

Note: Marquez declined an opportunity to be interviewed for this article.