Former Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Joseph “Joe” R. Quinn died on Thursday, May 18, 2023, at the age of 90. His family shared with the Court that Justice Quinn died peacefully, surrounded by his loved ones.
Justice Quinn was appointed to the Court in 1980 and was named chief justice by his colleagues on the Court in 1985. He served as chief justice until his retirement in 1993, although he continued to serve the judiciary as a senior judge into his 80s. Prior to his appointment to the Colorado Supreme Court, Justice Quinn served as a district court judge in Denver beginning in 1973.
Justice Quinn will be remembered fondly by those he touched in Colorado’s legal community. Justice Carlos A. Samour, Jr., recalled meeting Justice Quinn when he was a senior trial court judge and Justice Samour was a young deputy district attorney trying one of his first cases.
“He expected nothing less from the attorneys appearing in front of him than he did of himself. He prepared extensively for every case, whether it was a county court DUI case or a district court felony murder trial,” Justice Samour said. “Those of us who appeared in front of him learned tremendously from his thoughtful preparation, deliberation, and dedication to the rule of law. In my opinion, those of us who had the opportunity to learn from him and strive to achieve his standard of professionalism are better attorneys and judicial officers for it. For that we should all truly be thankful. He was a great jurist and a wonderful human being. May he rest in peace.”
Justice Samour added that he and Justice Quinn kept in touch over the years and would often get together when Justice Samour was the Chief Judge of the 18th Judicial District and Justice Quinn was on assignment as a senior judge in Arapahoe County.
At the age of 18, Justice Quinn enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and fought bravely in the Korean war. After achieving the rank of sergeant and earning an honorable discharge from the Corps, he earned his B.A. at St. Peter’s College and graduated with honors in 1957. He then entered Rutgers Law School and received an LL.B. degree in 1961.
Moving west, Justice Quinn began his professional career in Denver in 1961 as legal aide to Chief Justice Leonard V.B. Sutton. He spent four years in private practice before being named one of the first appointees to the Office of the Denver Public Defender in 1966, and then to the Office of the Colorado Public Defender in 1969. In 1971, he resigned his position to return to private practice, concentrating on criminal defense work. He was an instructor at the University of Denver College of Law from 1976 to 1982 and was a member of the American and Colorado bar associations.
A funeral mass will be held for Justice Quinn on June 9, 2023, at 1 p.m. at the Gardens at St. Elizabeth, 2835 W. 32nd Ave., Denver, CO 80211.