BLSA honors law school's first African American graduate

February 23, 2012

The Black Law Student Association (BLSA) honored Judge Robert H. Russell II '75, the first African American graduate of the law school  at BLSA's annual alumni awards celebration.

Russell and Sanders Russell (pictured with BLSA President Christopher Sanders '13)  has served for 14 years on Colorado's Eighteenth Judicial District Court. He earned his BA in sociology from the University of Missouri at Kansas City in June, 1963. He joined the Air Force and was stationed at Warner-Robins Air Force Base (AFB) in Georgia and Pease AFB in New Hampshire before a tour in Vietnam out of the Pleiku Air Base. He also served on Clark Air Base in the Philippines before returning to Tacoma in to begin his legal education at the University of Puget Sound. 

Upon graduation, Judge Russell was appointed Chief of Military Justice at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado where he served for three years before relocating to Bitburg Air Base, Germany, and served in the same role. He returned to the United States in 1981 and was appointed Chief, General Law Division, of the Air Reserve Personnel Center in Denver, Colorado.  Judge Russell retired from the Air Force in August, 1984, as a Lieutenant Colonel.

At that time, he formed a small general practice firm, Baird & Russell in Aurora, CO with his wife, Catharyn Baird, a 1974 graduate of the law school. He went on to serve as a Deputy District Attorney for the Eighteenth Judicial District in Littleton, as a Arapahoe County Court Referee, where he conducted in excess of 225 bench trials per year, and then was appointed Magistrate for the county in October, 1985. In June 1989, he joined the Arapahoe County Court and was ultimately promoted to Colorado's Eighteenth Judicial District Court in 1998. 

During his exemplary career, Judge Russell has been appointed by the state's Supreme Court to serve on several committees including the Family Court Study Group and the Jury Reform Implementation Committee. He is a member of various legal community organizations including the Sam Cary Bar Association, a National Bar Association affiliate, where he was past-president in 1991; the Minoru Yasui Inn, American Inns of Court, where he was a founding member; and the state, county and judges bar associations in Colorado. Since 1997, Judge Russell has served on the Board of Directors of the Mile High Chapter of the American Red Cross.

Judge Russell was awarded the 2008 Judicial Excellence Award by the Colorado Judicial Institute for his dedication to the justice system. He has also received several awards for his 20+ years of service with the U.S. Air Force including the Airman's Medal for Heroism; an AF Commendation Medal; a Vietnam Service Medal with four battle stars; and the Meritorious Service Medal.

View more photos from the celebration.