is being viewed from both sides
By Felisa Cardona
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
Since Chief U.S. District Judge Edward W. Nottingham Jr. slammed
his gavel down at former Qwest chief executive Joe Nacchio in
July and lectured him on morality, the focus has turned to the
judge's own behavior on and off the bench.
The thrice-divorced judge and father of three is an active skier
and cyclist with a penchant for impeccable suits and cufflinks.
In his courtroom, the 60-year-old
Nottingham dons a bright-blue robe — rather than the
traditional black — and doesn't have patience for frivolous
cases or delays.
Regarded as a dedicated workhorse who pays keen attention to
detail, Nottingham is also the subject of regular criticism —
typically whispered — from lawyers who have been subjected to
the judge's bursts of temper or cutting remarks from the bench.
"He's just a really imperious fellow," said Richard Kalamaya, a
law school classmate of Nottingham's who is now practicing in Longmont. "He's a real holier-than-thou
type of guy."
Recent revelations that the judge spent $3,000 on strippers in
one night and got into an argument with a woman in a wheelchair
because she says he illegally parked in a handicapped spot, have
some people inside and outside the federal courthouse wondering
whether the judge has good judgment.
A 9News report alleged that Nottingham's
name was among those listed as clients of a local escort
service. The business, Denver Sugar/Denver Players, is
under investigation by the Internal Revenue Service and is
described in court documents as a suspected prostitution ring.
Nottingham and his attorney have declined to
Investigations into Nottingham's
conduct have been launched by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of
Appeals. Sen. Ken Salazar said Thursday that he would
consider advocating the impeachment of the judge if the senator
determines that Nottingham
engaged in immoral conduct.
Friends who say they are surprised by the allegations think
will remain on the bench after all the investigations are over.
"My gut reaction is that he is a very strong character, and I
know he won't be bullied into a decision," said lawyer Ray Deeny,
a longtime Nottingham friend. "I know he believes in what he
believes in, and I know he believes he is a very capable judge
and that he is an asset to the court."
Nottingham, who declined to be interviewed, was raised by a
sheep-ranching family in Eagle
and attended a one-room schoolhouse in Avon.
The Nottinghams moved to Grand Junction,
where Nottingham graduated from high school, but during the
summer the family lived in Avon and
Nottingham helped out on the ranch.
In 1987, the Nottingham family was devastated when the judge's
two cousins, Stephen and Randy Nottingham, were killed in an
avalanche while snowmobiling near
Edward Nottingham obtained a bachelor's degree from Cornell University
and married his first wife, Cheryl Card, in 1970.
Cheryl Nottingham Williams, a therapist who works with
Alzheimer's patients, says she met her husband-to-be when he was
17. The two were on the debate team and majored in
government at Cornell.
Couple remained friends
They had two children but lost a third — a boy they planned to
name Patrick — when the umbilical cord knotted around the fetus
during the sixth month.
Nottingham divorced Williams in 1981, but they
The couple's daughter, Amy, 32, is a literature graduate who
works part time for a publisher. Their son, 30-year-old
Edward, who goes by Will, is completing his residency in
emergency medicine and is ( * ) expecting his first child next
month. (*Perhaps better stated whould have been.....
"he and his wife are expecting their first child next month." -
Williams says her ex-husband is an honorable man.
"During the background investigation as he became a federal
judge, I had no hesitancy in telling the FBI that I thought he
would make an excellent federal judge," she said. "I know
how he loves law and history and the United States Constitution.
Our laws could not be entrusted to someone with more integrity.
He is scrupulously ethical about all things that matter."
Nottingham earned his law degree from the University of Colorado
Kalamaya recalled that Nottingham had a reputation in Boulder for being a hardworking, earnest
"He hung around with what to me were a pretty square group of
people," Kalamaya said. "He hung out with the married
After obtaining his law degree, Nottingham clerked for Chief
U.S. District Judge Alfred A. Arraj, for whom the courthouse
presides over is named.
Former Colorado U.S. Attorney James Treece said he hired
as an assistant federal prosecutor in 1976.
"He was the only assistant I ever employed who was recommended
to me by Judge Alfred Arraj," said Treece, 83. "When he
came to apply with that recommendation, I told him that I did
not have time to teach him how to be a trial lawyer, so make
sure to get a job somewhere else and get a background in trial
Nottingham then took a job with the firm
Sherman & Howard and came back to Treece.
"I never had any complaints about him," Treece said. "He
was a good worker, and he was devoted and good at what he did."
When Treece left office, Joseph F. Dolan took over as U.S. attorney.
Dolan, 86, remembers Nottingham
as one of the most dedicated attorneys in the office.
"Eddie would be in early in the morning — he would be in at 7
when others would be in at 9 a.m. — and he stayed until 9 to 10
at night," Dolan said. "He prepared better than anybody."
After two years as a federal prosecutor, Nottingham worked again
at Sherman & Howard, then went into private practice in Grand Junction.
Attorney James Nesland, who has known
since 1976, said the judge had aspirations to become a
congressman before he was appointed to the bench.
"He moved to Grand Junction, and he got active in politics over
there," Nesland said, "but I think ultimately decided that he
would not be successful in the political arena over there
because other people established themselves over a period of
Nottingham also served as Western Slope
coordinator for George H.W. Bush's 1988 presidential campaign.
In 1984, Nottingham married
former assistant U.S. Attorney Janis Chapman. The marriage
lasted 14 years, and they have a son, Spencer Nottingham, 21,
who is participating in a foreign-student program in
"Ed and I have remained friends over the years," Chapman said.
"Our focus has always been on all of Ed's children, and we
continue to enjoy family gatherings with all of the children,
grandchildren and Ed's first wife, Cheryl Williams."
In 1989, the elder Bush, then president, nominated
to the federal court. Last year,
became chief judge.
On Valentine's Day of 2004, Nottingham
married Marcie Jaeger, a broker and developer. They
divorced in March 2006 after a bitter court battle that spilled
into the news. It was in that case that
Nottingham acknowledged during questioning that he
had spent thousands of dollars at a strip club.
Nottingham has presided over high-profile and
complex cases, including those dealing with prisoner rights,
employment law and the environment.
"He's been very, very busy despite his personal issues," said
John Holcomb, professor of legal studies at the Daniels College
of Business at the University of Denver. "He's written 121 orders
and opinions since the Nacchio opinion, and I would say, in
addition to that, his docket is very current, which means he is
up to date. Whatever issues he has, they have not
distracted him from getting his work done."
79 of 108 decisions affirmed
Over his career, there have been 108 appeals of
Nottingham's rulings. In those cases, his
decisions were affirmed 79 times; reversed 14 times;
affirmed in part or reversed in part eight times; and
dismissed, vacated or given denial of mandamus motions that
generally favored him seven times.
Of the 14 reversals, six were criminal cases and eight were
Holcomb said Nottingham tends
to be toughest on employment-law plaintiffs who must clear a
high bar of proof before the case can go forward.
Lawyers say he plays no favorites and is equally hard on either
side when he is unhappy about an argument or a performance.
"He is always prepared. He is thorough and incredibly
intelligent," said Harvey Steinberg, one of Denver's best-known defense lawyers. "If
you go in there, you know you are going to get a fair shot.
He has yelled at me, and you know, the times he has done that
In 1994, Nottingham displayed
his anger at both the plaintiff and the defense when he presided
over a Michael Jackson copyright trial.
Songwriter Crystal Cartier had claimed that Jackson stole his song "Dangerous" from her.
Irritated during Jackson trial
During the trial, Nottingham
ordered Cartier to leave the courtroom and change into more
appropriate attire after she showed up in a skin-tight,
black-leather outfit that showed a lot of cleavage. He
also appeared irritated when
had trouble answering during cross-examination.
Nottingham said, "Just answer the question."
"I am," Jackson
"You're not," Nottingham said.
"I'm trying," the performer said.
"You're failing, the judge said.
ultimately won the case.
A source close to the judge says the 10th Circuit's recent
decision to overturn Nacchio's conviction deeply disappointed
The court not only sent the case back for retrial but ruled that Nottingham could not preside because he may not be able to
hear the case with a "fresh mind."
Attorney Charles Torres worked with Nottingham in the U.S. attorney's
office and considers the judge a friend.
When the two were federal prosecutors, judges on the bench had a
tough demeanor. Perhaps, Torres said,
has tried to emulate that as a judge.
"He's a little too grouchy in court, and I hope this
(controversy) will now cause him to relax a little bit more and
be a bit more understanding with lawyers in his courtroom,"
Torres said. "I think Ed has the ability to make those
Torres said Nottingham was not
only a dedicated lawyer but an involved father who is close to
He surmised that Nottingham's
recent troubles could be a result of the pressures in his life
on and off the bench.
"He is probably very embarrassed," Torres said. "I think
that job on the federal bench can become a very lonely job.
And so I think everything just came together at once and he just
had a bad string. . . . I can't think of anyone who doesn't go
through a tough time in his life, and this is his."
Staff writer Christopher N. Osher contributed to this report.
Felisa Cardona: 303-954-1219 or