Colorado Supreme Court Risks Bias Charge with $3,200 Broncos Banners

January 24, 2014

Associated Press

They say justice is blind, but, like the rest of Colorado, the state’s high court can’t help but see in blue and orange.

Colorado’s Supreme Court justices join the rest of the state in the excitement over the Denver Broncos’ run to the Super Bowl against the Seattle Seahawks. Four blue and orange “Go Broncos” banners were recently draped down the stately columns on the front of the Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center, which houses the Supreme Court and the Colorado Court of Appeals.

But some legal experts have thrown a flag on the court’s play for excessive celebration, and the $3,200 price tag attached to it.

Judges aren’t just any fans and should be hyperaware of appearing unbiased, said William Brunson, director of special projects at the National Judicial College in Reno, Nev. He said the banners could create a conflict of interest if a case involving the Broncos corporation or an individual player ever appeared before the state’s high court.

“You are looking at this situation two ways,” Brunson said. “Of course the justices want to support anything that beneficially impacts the state, but can they be advocates for that? That’s the question.”

The idea for the banners was hatched at a retirement party for former Chief Justice Michael Bender, who retired on Jan. 7, said Rob McCallum, spokesman for the Colorado Judicial Branch.

Newly appointed Chief Justice Nancy Rice approved the show of orange and blue earlier this month. The banners were hung right before the team’s AFC championship win over the New England Patriots.

“I think we, like anyone in Colorado, are very partial to the Broncos winning the Super Bowl,” McCallum said. “But when it comes to a matter of law, that is a completely different story.”

Robert Giacalone teaches business and legal ethics at the University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business. He said there is a gray area between a government agency endorsing the Broncos as a business, or cheering on the team.

“I cannot imagine that the court system, because they are placing a banner out front, is going to change any of its positions as a result of supporting the Broncos for the Super Bowl,” Giacalone said.