Gregory Hobbs, a former Colorado Supreme Court justice who loved poetry and bolo ties, has died at 76

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Colorado Supreme Court building in Denver
Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
The Colorado Supreme Court building in Denver.

Former Colorado Supreme Court Justice Gregory Hobbs, known for his Western-rooted poetry, big bolo ties, and molecule-level expertise in water law, has died at the age of 76. 

Hobbs was picked for the high court by Democratic Gov. Roy Romer in 1996 and spent nearly two decades on the bench before retiring in 2015. He was a strong advocate for the environment, natural resources, and Colorado itself — the state where he found so much poetry.

“Judges need to be out in the community, and (in its) cultural, artistic, educational, charitable fabric. People don't understand what judges do,” Hobbs said of being a Supreme Court justice in a 2005 Colorado Matters interview. “It's a magnificent privilege.”

Gregory Hobbs, the former Colorado Supreme Court justice known for his Western-rooted poetry, big bolo ties, and molecule-level expertise in water law.

Hobbs first started working for the state around 1975, as a lawyer in the environmental, transportation and natural resources section of the Attorney General's office. He practiced water and land use law until joining the court.

In the mid-80s, as a member of the Metropolitan Air Quality Council, he was part of a push to try to convert the region’s coal-fired power plants to natural gas. While that transition only occurred decades later, Hobbs called Denver’s air quality — before its recent backsliding — one of the state’s great success stories.

“We went from an era when people were burning trash in their backyards, in the mid-60s, to 150 days of carbon monoxide violation (in 1975), to compliance by the year 2000 with all the federal standards for our ambient air quality,” he noted in 2005.

Hobbs was also a published poet. So notable were his verses that Gov. Romer, after nominating him, specifically asked Hobbs to keep his opinions strictly in prose — and to get a “respectable tie.” Hobbs was known for wearing string ties with a large gemstone clasp. Hobbs agreed on both counts. The tie didn’t look good underneath judicial robes, and poetry would have gotten in the way of the “clear, straightforward” legal writing he valued.

But away from the bench, the poetry (and the bolo ties) remained a part of his life throughout his time in the courtroom and community.

“In poetry and history and judging, I am still looking and observing (this place), and have the great privilege of observing peculiar, strange and interesting problems that the citizens of Colorado get themselves into,” said Hobbs. “We can't write a legal case just by concepts. We have to root it in the facts of the case. Poetry is rooted in the detail of a particular perspective.”

In a statement, Attorney General Phil Weiser said, “Justice Hobbs was an invaluable advocate and expert in the water community, and his contributions to Colorado as one of its greatest legal minds will long be remembered.”

"Coloradans" — Gregory Hobbs (as recited on CPR’s Colorado Matters)

To each of us
The land, the air, the water, 
Mountain, canyon, mesa, plain,
Lightning bolts, clear days with no rain,
At the source of all thirst, 
At the source of all thirst-quenching hope,
At the root and core of time and no-time, 
The Great Divide Community 
Stands astride the backbone of the continent, 
Gathering, draining, reflecting, sending forth 
A flow so powerful it seeps rhythmically 
From within, 
Alive to each of us, 
To drink, to swim, to grow corn ears 
To listen to our children, float the streams 
Of their own magnificence, 
Out of their seeping dreams, 
Out of their useful silliness, 
Out of their source mouths, 
High and pure, 
The Great Divide 
You and I, all that lives 
And floats and flies and passes through 
All we know of why.