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A tribute to the “Dean” Joseph Montano
Photo courtesy: Horan and McConaty

By Joshua Pilkington

Joseph Mack Montano leaves a tangible legacy behind

When driving down I-70 or I-25 what is it most people think about?

“I usually find myself wondering why there always seems to be construction,” said Miguel Montero, 34, Centennial, of his daily commute along I-25 to the Denver Tech Center. “It seems like every year over the last 8 years that I’ve worked at the Tech Center, there is construction in some area along I-25.”

Alicia Vidal of Denver said her mind usually wanders elsewhere when driving along I-70.

“If I’m heading west, I’m usually on my way to the mountains, so I feel a little exhilarated at the idea of skiing on the slopes for a weekend getaway,” said the 29-year-old from Aurora. “Heading back though, I’m usually dreading going back to work.”

Construction, getaways, increased traffic due to population growth are all things commuters tend to reflect on or lament while driving along Colorado’s two major interstates. What they aren’t thinking about, however, is how they got there.

On January 20, 2017 one of the principal figures in the acquisition of Colorado’s primary interstates as well as Denver International Airport and C-470 and E-470 passed away. Joseph Mack Montano was a fourth-generation Coloradoan whose family lineage can be traced back to North America since 1598. Despite his long-standing American heritage, the road was long and difficult for the graduate from Denver University College of Law and Korean War veteran.

Though he had all the required skills and backing education to take on numerous positions in law, Montano spent several years working for the Texaco Company before he joined the Colorado Attorney General’s office as the Assistant Attorney General. It was there that he honed is trial skills and, after nine years, was promoted to Chief Highway Counsel, where he became a primary figure in negotiations and acquisition efforts for the I-25 and I-70 corridors. He also managed the contract of the Eisenhower Tunnel.

In his obituary Montano’s friend and mentee Lesley Fields gushed about the impact Montano’s tenure had on the state.

“Many of those early cases that Joe tried helped shape the law of eminent domain in this state,” she said. “Years later, I could not drive down any road or highway in Colorado with Joe, without having him recall a fascinating story about a particular case he had handled along the way. He was an amazingly talented lawyer who showed me how to practice law with grace, dignity and skill. For that and his enduring friendship, I will always be grateful.”

After being in public service for 18 years, Montano chose to go into private practice and in 1976 he set another transcendental precedent by becoming the first Hispanic partner at a private practice in Colorado.

Up to his retirement in 1998, Montano represented private landowners in some of the most prolific public work projects in Colorado, many of which defined the formation of the state. He tried almost 300 cases by the time of his retirement and many of those cases ended up before the Colorado Court of Appeals and Colorado Supreme Court, all of which earned him the nickname the “Dean” of eminent domain law.

“Joe was a superb lawyer and embodied the very best of our profession,” said Jack Sperber whom Montano also mentored while working at the firm Faegre & Benson, now Feagre Baker Daniels. He was the consummate professional and treated everyone that he met with dignity and kindness no matter what the circumstances.”

Montano was also a dedicated family man who is survived by his wife of 34 years, Janice, his three children, his two grandchildren and his great granddaughter.





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