Published in: Colorado Super Lawyers 2012 — April 2012

The Man from Cherry Creek North

By Ron S. Doyle

Preservation, restoration and activism characterize Gary Jackson’s legacy

The Man from Cherry Creek North
Photo: Susan Goddard

It’s a warm Saturday afternoon in the 1930s, and the sun settles atop the mountains surrounding Coal Creek Canyon. African-American families drive up the unpaved canyon road in automobiles or squeeze into the passenger cars of the California Zephyr, all headed for Winks Lodge—the crown jewel of the Lincoln Hills Country Club development and the country’s only black-owned resort community west of the Mississippi River.

On a more recent warm Saturday afternoon, 66-year-old attorney Gary M. Jackson, of DiManna & Jackson in Denver, stands outside Winks Lodge, eyeing the tall weeds that have grown around the place. The lodge, named for Obrey Wendall “Winks” Hamlet, the entrepreneur who built the lodge and helped promote it to national fame, has been closed since 1965 when its namesake died. Beckwourth Outdoors, a Denver-based nonprofit organization, bought the lodge in 2006, and Jackson serves on the Beckwourth Outdoors board of directors that oversees the restoration of the lodge and its surrounding cabins.

After four decades as a lawyer, Jackson’s awards and commendations include the National Bar Association’s Wiley A. Branton Award, the Colorado Bar Association Award of Merit, and the University of Colorado Law School’s Private Practitioner of the Year. He has served as the Colorado Chapter President of the American Board of Trial Advocates, a member of the District of Colorado’s Committee on Conduct, and the 2nd Judicial District’s Judicial Nominating Committee.

But his professional accolades (which he claims to be the product of his age) don’t matter as much to Jackson as his community work, especially this effort with Beckwourth Outdoors and the Winks Lodge restoration project. He believes Winks Lodge is historically valuable to all Americans, but he’s here for personal reasons, too. He’s preserving the legacy of his own family history.

Gary Jackson’s great-grandfather left the repressive social climate of Missouri and moved to Colorado in 1926. “He was visiting a relative who was in the veteran’s hospital and fell in love with Colorado,” says Jackson. “He loved the opportunities he saw here. Segregation still existed, but not to the same degree as in Missouri.”

Jackson’s great-grandfather bought land in Lincoln Hills—not far from Winks Lodge—built a summer cabin, and worked as a carpenter, lending his expertise to the construction of other cabins in the area. Jackson has visited the family cabin almost every summer since his birth in 1945 and spent countless childhood weekends exploring in the foothills northwest of Denver. Jackson studied for the bar in the family cabin, brought his own children there, and still brings his grandchildren there today.

 

He grew up in Denver’s Cherry Creek North neighborhood, where his great-grandfather also bought property to raise a family. “In 1926, the north Cherry Creek area was right next to the city dump, so it was where poor people lived,” says Jackson. “You could buy property cheap and there was a pocket of black families that lived there.”

White families and affluence soon spread to Cherry Creek North—today one of Denver’s wealthiest neighborhoods—and nudged out many of its early residents. Even during a brief period when his parents moved to northeast Denver, Jackson’s family remained connected to the neighborhood. He and his brother attended Steck Elementary, Hill Junior High School—both predominantly white—and the newly opened George Washington High School, where only a handful of black students attended.

After high school, Jackson received a scholarship to attend the University of Redlands in California in 1963. “Historically, that was the Cold War, so my focus was on becoming an engineer. I was into math and sciences and those types of courses,” says Jackson. After receiving a middling grade in calculus, Jackson began to question if engineering was the right path for him. He transferred to the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he met W. Harold “Sonny” Flowers Jr.

“There were only 20 or so black students on the CU campus at that time,” says Flowers, “so we spotted each other pretty quickly. [Jackson] was very athletic but focused on academics, fun to be around but always had his eyes on the prize: his diploma.” The two soon became roommates and Jackson met Sonny’s father, W. Harold Flowers Sr., during parent weekends and other holidays. “He said my father was the first lawyer he’d ever met in person,” says Flowers.

“Sonny’s father was a lawyer—a premier lawyer—in Pine Bluff, Arkansas,” remembers Jackson, “and hearing about what he was doing in Arkansas made me think that law was the right profession for me. It was the type of civil rights work that Mr. Flowers was doing that really inspired me to go to law school.”

So Jackson changed his academic focus, majoring in political science with a minor in psychology, and continued at CU through law school. According to Flowers, Jackson got his first taste of activism on campus while approaching the university’s president, Joseph R. Smiley, about the formation of a special educational opportunity program for African-American students. When the program was approved, “Gary worked hard, served as a dorm resident adviser, a mentor and more. He took his new responsibilities very seriously,” says Flowers, adding that he continues to mentor younger attorneys today.

During his last year of law school, Jackson was hired as an intern at the Denver District Attorney’s Office. He accepted a job offer after graduation and became a deputy district attorney in 1970, serving as a criminal trial prosecutor.

In 1971, Jackson helped found the Sam Cary Bar Association, named for the prominent 1930s African-American trial attorney in Colorado. At the time, Jackson was one of roughly a dozen black lawyers in Colorado. “He served as its president and helped create a scholarship endowment for deserving black law students—he was like the godfather of the organization,” says Gary Blum, a shareholder at Silver & DeBoskey in Denver and one of Jackson’s CU classmates.

Jackson spent time outside work focusing on community and cultural organizations, such as his local community theater and the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble. (“Cleo says I’m one of the first persons to donate $100,” Jackson adds, “and now they’re internationally known and just celebrated their 40th anniversary.”) He joined the board of the Northeast Denver Youth Services project, a program for indigent youth in the area. “By 1972, I was chief trial deputy in the juvenile division of the Denver DA’s office, involved in the prosecution of kids for delinquencies and crime,” says Jackson. “In a way you could say [I was involved in] the criminalization of these kids, so I wanted to be involved in supporting them, too—these kids that needed education, jobs and counseling.”

After five years in criminal prosecution, Jackson moved to the civil division of the U.S. attorney’s office, where he handled Federal Tort Claims Act cases, land-condemnation cases and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission cases. He relished the opportunity to diversify his legal skills but painfully remembers the challenges. “When I first got assigned to condemnation,” he says, “I had to look up in my Black’s Law Dictionary what ‘land condemnation’ meant. I was definitely a fish out of water. The judge who handled that first case was not only a very experienced lawyer but also an expert in condemnation law. He put me through my paces.”

Shortly after moving into private practice in 1976, Jackson completed a professional circuit that few lawyers experience: He had both prosecuted and defended first-degree homicide cases; tried civil and administrative cases at the local, state and federal levels; worked on small hearings and million-dollar trials and nearly everything in between.

His breadth of work has paid off. More than 15 years after his first federal land-condemnation trial (which he lost but learned), Denver’s Baseball Stadium District needed legal help to acquire land for the city’s new baseball stadium. They tapped Jackson as one of their key trial attorneys.

Today, Jackson’s practice focuses on representing lawyers and judges who are facing disciplinary action before the presiding disciplinary judge or the Colorado Commission on Judicial Discipline. “These last 40 years laid the groundwork for what I do today,” says Jackson. Other lawyers and judges trust his talents, honor his experience, and appreciate his sensible nature.

“He’s always been a gentleman,” says Kim Ikeler, an assistant regulation counsel for the Colorado Supreme Court Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel, who has opposed Jackson in the courtroom numerous times in the last decade. “We sometimes have different outlooks but he’s a fair opponent. In one recent case, Gary was defending a Colorado lawyer for tax evasion and conversion of funds. We were seeking disbarment, but Gary substantially reduced his sentence to an 18-month suspension.”

Blum is succinct. “Gary gets excellent results for his clients,” he says.

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