Author Archives: Amy Farr Robertson

About Amy Farr Robertson

Civil Rights Lawyer. Dog Lover. Smartass.

I enthusiastically support [Biden/Sanders] and you should, too!!!!!

I’m going to go full-on unfiltered bitch on everyone.  My Warren sisters – we get one more day to grieve; my fellow Dems who are deeply unthrilled with the remaining choices – you get one more day to gripe.

Then we all pivot to VOCALLY/VISIBLY ENTHUSIASTICALLY SUPPORTING THE FIELD AND THE EVENTUAL NOMINEE.

Why? Because we don’t save our country from Trump by “holding our noses and voting.” We save our country by inspiring the 91,739,344 people who didn’t vote last time to get their asses to the polls.

It’s true that of the 327,000,000 people in the U.S., neither Sanders nor Biden would have been my choice for president. (My choice would be Julie Gonzales, followed closely by Stacey Abrams and Elizabeth Warren.) But that’s not how it works.

You know how to do this. You’ve had dinner at a friend’s house and happily, enthusiastically, eaten and even praised food that — if you were being honest — would have skipped the dog’s dish and gone straight to the compost heap. But there was a higher value: your love for your friend.

That’s where we are now. For the love of our current and future fellow Americans, for the love of the people at the border and in camps, for the love of the law that Trump’s courts would destroy, for the love of the earth, for the love of the truth, we need to happily, enthusiastically eat the dish called Democratic Nominee.

Every time you say something enthusiastic about Biden or Sanders, you are saving the country.  Your capes await you.

Super hero capes including Superman, Wonder Woman, Captain America, Batman, and Iron Man

Windbag Privilege

I’m having a very specific reaction to those among the Republican impeachment cast of characters who are lawyers: Giuliani; Sekulow; Dershowitz; Barr; Starr. They are evil, incompetent, unethical, and generally loathsome people. But each one of them—to a man—would get more respect in most courtrooms than I would. Because of their gender and race. Because they look like what judges expect lawyers to look like. Hell, because they look like the judge himself. You lady lawyers know what I’m talking about. Lawyers of color, disabled lawyers, queer lawyers probably have similar experiences. Some old white windbag stands up and spouts incomprehensible bullshit or demonstrable lies. Sits down. Then I stand up facing a look of skepticism so familiar I barely notice it any more. The look that says, “that reassuring old white dude sounds so REASONABLE. Just look at him. Nice haircut, suit and tie, TALL. You’d better have a damn good story to overcome the comfort I take in his story.”

Often I do. I’m good at my job. But I start in a procedural, evidentiary, legal hole dug out right behind the podium by centuries of white patriarchy.

Watching these famous lawyers, all male, all white, wearing their expensive suits and unearned reputations, debasing themselves with arguments even they are smart enough to know are bullshit, being taken seriously by the media as lawyers … brings a very personal rage.

Mourning the passing and celebrating the life of Judge Wiley Y. Daniel

Image: photo of Black man, balding with a mustache and wire-framed glasses, wearing a suit, a flowered bow tie, and a matching vest.

Photo credit:  David Zalubowski, Special to The Denver Post

Yesterday, we celebrated the life and mourned the passing of Judge Wiley Y. Daniel, a Senior United States District Judge in the District of Colorado. I have been privileged to practice before Judge Daniel from early in my legal career to earlier this year, and each time it was a delightful experience. He was always prepared, knowledgeable, practical, respectful, and funny. He worked hard to put everyone in the courtroom at ease so we could get to the business at hand, for example, carefully establishing out-of-state counsel’s college football and basketball allegiances before proceeding.

In one of my earliest appearances before Judge Daniel, I was arguing for wheelchair access to Denver’s Red Rocks Amphitheatre. Opposing counsel observed that Red Rocks was built into the side of a steep mountain.  Judge Daniel responded by asking (something to the effect of — unlike the below, we didn’t get the transcript), “That’s all well and good, but why should the burden of that geography fall only on people with disabilities?”  He has, from the get go, understood the fundamental premise of disability civil rights.

In June, 2018, we again appeared before Judge Daniel on the question of wheelchair access to Red Rocks, though this time it was to seek final approval of a class action settlement addressing ticketing and scalping problems that had excluded people with disabilities. Final approval hearings are always upbeat events, as the parties have settled and appear before the judge jointly requesting his blessing of the settlement. Judge Daniel quizzed us on the details of the agreement, indicated his intent to approve it, and then took the opportunity to talk about civil rights and disability rights:

I have had occasion, both as a lawyer, and more importantly as a Judge, to see the evolution of the [ADA]. … [T]here have been strides to make accessibility more an important ingredient of public access to facilities, transportation modes and anything else. So what I’m really saying is, since I have been around a long time, I’m pleased that we’re making strides, but I’m also disappointed that lawsuits have to be filed before anybody, such as the City and County of Denver or other public bodies have to do the right thing, and so I hope that this outcome here can be another further example of how the law can work in a proactive way, but hopefully it also sends a message that even without a lawsuit, I think entities such as City and County of Denver and other public entities have an obligation to, on their own, figure out what should be done to make it easier, rather than harder, for folks with disabilities to have the same access that everybody else has.

[T]hat’s why one of the wonders of being a practicing attorney is [that] practicing attorneys, if they are interested in social justice, if they are interested in being social engineers for justice, can still play a vital role in moving the needle more quickly.

[A]ll of that is what I am uplifting and raising as an illustration [that] we are making progress, but we’re a long way from perfection, and I say that parallels some of the issues that still exist in this country on racial issues, where we have civil rights laws that go back to the mid 60s, but we still have, today, the clear rise of white supremacy, we clearly have nationalists that are running for congress today, running hateful statements and awful things, but they will get votes. And so I think our country has a long way to go to, in effect, liberate us from the battles that have been in existence and will remain in existence, and to the extent that courts can help resolve them, I’m just gratified that I can play some small role in this, and hopefully we will reach a point, at some point, where these laws will become truly an integral part of the fabric of our life.

 Judge Daniel, we are surpassingly gratified that you played such a large role in advancing civil rights in Colorado and improving the fabric of our life. We miss you very much.

[Apologies for cross-posting.]

Tony Kronman: Black Lives Do Not In Fact Matter. 

In 2017, Yale University renamed Calhoun College (at Yale, they call dormitories “residential colleges” because … Yale) after Grace Murray Hopper, a “trailblazing computer scientist, brilliant mathematician and teacher, and dedicated public servant.”  John C. Calhoun was a prominent Yale alumnus and U.S. Senator and, of course, passionate defender of slavery as a positive good.

Yale Law professor and former dean Anthony Kronman objects, explaining that, in his view:

Hitler and Stalin would have to come off buildings, but he says “less egregious” cases like Calhoun are different.

This is literally valuing the millions of white lives lost to the Holocaust and to Stalinism more highly than the millions of black lives lost to American slavery. And by “literally,” I literally mean “literally.”

Kronman accuses those who supported renaming a Yale college (that is, a dorm) — discarding the name of a prominent supporter of slavery for the name of a pioneering female scientist — of the sort of historical revisionism practiced by the Soviet Politburo.

Kronman says that colleges and universities have a responsibility to “cultivate the capacity for enduring the moral ambiguities of life.”

What in the absolute fuck is morally ambiguous about slavery?  It is precisely this sort of academic arrogance that actively devalues and excludes students of color and prevents real intellectual discussion and evolution. It also requires a special sort of intellectual laziness to easily acknowledge other countries’ monsters while being unwilling to face up to our own.

I’m ashamed of my school’s former dean and proud of Prof. John Fabian Witt for his excellent point-by-point demolition of Prof. Kronman’s indefensible defense of the defense of slavery.

 

White People Listserv Freakout: A Template

White Person:  [Expresses demonstrably racist/sexist/ableist/transmisiast/nativist view.]

Reasoned Response:  Here is why your *ist views  are wrong.

White Person:  You just called me a *ist!  You hurt my feelings! [Optional: list of all the wonderful things I’ve done for BIPOC/disabled/female/LGBTQ* people.]

White Chorus:  You hurt White Person’s feelings!  He’s such a nice guy!  He has done so many good things for BIPOC/disabled/female/LGBTQ* people!  Two wrongs don’t make a right!  Both sides need to apologize!

White Apologist:  Reasoned Response said something negative about white people.  That’s just like saying something negative about BIPOC/disabled/female/LGBTQ*/etc people.

Reasoned Response:  No, actually, *ism is about power differentials.

Discussion Police:  We’ve been talking about this for a whole day.  It’s annoying.  A civil rights listserv is no place to discuss *ism.  Time to end the discussion.

Rinse.  Repeat.

Remembering Carrie

Two white-appearing women with cameras and other photo gear. Carrie, on the left, in a denim skirt and black t-shirt using a wheelchair. Amy, on the right, standing, wearing a beige fleece, vest, and jeans. My friend — and multi-talented attorney, activist, and mother — passed last February.  We celebrated her life on Saturday.  These were my words.


When I sat down to write these words, I knew I would be able to plagiarize a lot of my own previous words. I’ve had the privilege of introducing Carrie at various events and presenting awards to her on a number of occasions.

So I did what any nerd would do: searched my computer for documents mentioning Carrie.

As I anticipated, I found the words I had said introducing her for a Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition award, and later an award from our organization, the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center, as well as the words I said to introduce her as a candidate for Windsor town board. I’ll reuse some of them in a sec.

But I also found a long list of other documents that show the central role Carrie played in my personal and professional life for the past 20 years.  For example:

  • Lucas v. Iliff – the case on which my husband, Tim Fox, and I first represented Carrie and got to know her, asking her divinity school for accommodations.
  • Lucas v. Kmart – and our tribute to her when that case was recognized by the Impact Fund as the largest disability public accommodations case to date (and possibly through the present), making Kmart stores nationwide accessible to people using wheelchairs.
  • I also found the photos we took for the Impact Fund’s event. Sadly, they didn’t use the one of Carrie, Tim, Kevin Williams, and me all playing poker around our conference table.
  • Lucas v. DU and Lucas v. DU. Or in the words of one of Carrie’s best press releases, “Oops, they did it again!”
  • Carrie’s adoption reference.
  • Carrie’s dumpling sauce.
  • A spreadsheet called “Carrie Lucas Internship Timesheet” – when she interned at our law firm as a law student, prepared court-ready pleadings, and of course taught us more than we taught her.
  • Lucas v. Colorado Rockies: now you can buy accessible seats behind home plate without buying season tickets.
  • Carrie’s EJW photo. After she was awarded the prestigious Equal Justice Works fellowship, I had the privilege of taking the official photo, while she was wearing – of all things – a hat my mother made her.
  • Her first case in federal court, for which we drafted an amicus brief. (Amicus means friend in Latin – never was it truer than on briefs we wrote to support Carrie’s cases.) I also found the brief from the case last year in which she supported us as an amicus, along with Julie Farrar, who just spoke, and Corbett, who is online.
  • The published case of Kerr v. Heather Gardens, setting an obscure but important ADA precedent. Every time I cite it, I recognize how Carrie still helps us and so many other lawyers in so many fields.
  • Lucas v. City and County of Denver: now you can buy accessible tickets to Red Rocks that don’t cost $5,000 on StubHub.
  • The many cases on which we co-counseled, including two in a row against the City of Denver for accommodations for Deaf detainees. (Oops, they did it again!)
  • A long messaging discussion – which I saved, God knows why – about why it is OK to have breakfast for dinner and dinner for breakfast, but NOT to mix breakfast food and dinner food, reaching the consensus that ketchup on eggs was a desecration.
  • A downloaded copy of “15 Theses – A Protest to Challenge the Church on Disability,” Carrie’s blog post on Reformation Day, in which she set forth 15 specific, biblically-sourced ways in which the Church needed to become more welcoming to disabled people. (She adds:  “I sketched these out during worship last week, but give me time, I could come up with 95.”)  I highly recommend this post to people of all faiths or none.

Carrie (purple dress; short hair; wheelchair) playing with a young golden retriever who has his paws on her knees.

Carrie was the get-shit-donest person I know. We lawyers can be a cautious bunch — always arguing this side and that.  I can recall many occasions when — confronting injustice or simply something that needed doing — while the rest of us were still pondering, planning, and arguing about the best route forward, we would discover that Carrie had already acted.

She saw something that needed to be done and she did it.  One of the best examples of this is when she found out her niece faced the possibility of foster care:  she moved immediately to adopt her.

Then realizing the obstacles she faced as a disabled woman trying to adopt, she made the rights of parents with disabilities the focus of her legal education and career.

When Carrie started her nonprofit, Disabled Parents’ Rights, the number of lawyers in the country who were addressing these issues was in the low- to mid-single-digits.  She quickly became an expert in this crucial area, and was a sought-after speaker and teacher for other lawyers, advocates, and even judges.

You’ll hear a lot about all of her many roles:  mother, lawyer, advocate, arrestee, photographer, cook.  She was all these things.  Then we’d be chatting and she’d say something like, “we’re going to see Hamilton, so I’m making Hamilton skirts for myself and my daughters.”  Or “I have some time over Christmas break — I’ve decided to learn the hammer dulcimer.”

She was the person I always turned to when I need an answer:  What’s the right case to cite?  Who should I vote for?  What does the trinity mean? How do I format a document in Word without throwing my laptop out the window?  She answered these and so many others.

When we gave her the CREEC award a few years ago, we summed up Carrie’s intersectional work and identities by saying: “she may be the only wheelchair-using Latina with a bumper sticker that reads ‘just another disabled lesbian for Christ,’ dressed in camo, driving her trak-chair into the wilderness for the perfect photo.

Carrie was our client, intern, colleague, and co-counsel, but most important to me, she was my dear friend.  She had just the right combination of wisdom, compassion, sarcasm, and love, and I miss her profoundly.

Cartoon drawing of Carrie as a superhero, with an orange cape.

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Thank you for your email.  Unfortunately, I will be unavailable from July 19, 2019 until July 19, 3019.  I am busy, grumpy, and antisocial.  If you are emailing for any of the following reasons, do not expect a reply before our sun goes supernova:  picking my brain, having a networking coffee, or asking me which provision of the ADA regulations applies to your case before you have even checked Westlaw.  If you are asking me to tell you which provision of the ADA regulations applies to your case but you have previously told me you “don’t believe in lawsuits,” please close the email and go fuck yourself.  The following emails may be returned with reasonable promptness:  close friends offering to listen to me whine about my cases; offers to buy me beer and/or dumplings; and Mom.