Roger Cisneros has overcome tremendous obstacles. He grew up in a small New Mexico town, the son of a poor farmer. In early childhood, he helped out on the family farm, herding sheep on the barren terrain. His childhood included struggles with the English language. But he took every opportunity to read and improve himself, and as an eighth grader, he was found to have the highest IQ for his age group in Taos County. He earned many medals in school, both as a scholar and as a track star.
Cisneros faced racism as he served his country in the Army Air Corps in the 1940s. During his deployments overseas on crowded military ships, he was often requested to change places with other soldiers because some did not want to be in the company of “blacks.” Under the Okinawan sun he became very dark and when he returned to his parents’ dairy farm in Longmont, Colorado, he was refused service in the local café that allowed “white trade only.”
Not fazed by the racism he encountered, Cisneros obtained a business degree from the University of Denver. After graduating and going to work for the federal government, he realized there were very few Hispanic lawyers, so he enrolled in the Westminster Law School and obtained his law degree in 1957. He became one of only five Latinos who practiced law in Colorado, and he had a successful law practice for many years. In 1964, he was elected to the Colorado State Senate, where he served his Denver district for 12 years. In 1978, Governor Richard Lamm appointed him to the State of Colorado District Court where he served in the domestic, civil, and criminal divisions. Judge Cisneros retired in 1986 but continued his service for three more years as a senior judge.
Throughout his professional life he has served on many civil boards and organizations. In addition to serving on the Denver Commission on Community Relations, the National Advisory Board of the Small Business Administration, and the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Commission, Judge Cisneros was a founder of the Marlee Garfield Improvement Association, founder of the Board of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, and founder of the Latin American Research and Service Agency (LARASA). He also served as president of the Latin American Educational Foundations and the United Latin American Organization.
Judge Cisneros also served on The Colorado Olympic Commission for the 1976 Winter Olympics and the boards of the Denver YMCA, the Denver Art Museum, Girls Club Inc., the West Side Action Council, and The Southwest Youth Service Board. He was appointed by the Denver School Board to serve on the Denver Equality of Education Opportunity Committee, and was appointed by Federal Judge William Doyle to the Community Education Council to supervise Denver Schools’ integration program. He has served on the Colorado Board of Law Examiners, as Vice President of the Denver Bar Association, as Chairman of the Continuing Legal Education Committee, and as a member of the Governor’s Commission on Child Support. In honor of Judge Cisneros’ dedication to the community, a jury room inside the new Denver Justice Center was named after him in 2009.
CBA-CLE is hosting the Colorado Legal Legend Series, and Tuesday, December 18, is a rare opportunity to hear from Judge Cisneros in person. He will be joined by his good friend and colleague, Federico Peña. He will share his ethical and professional words of wisdom—as well as personal and practical advice that has earned him the reputation as one of Colorado’s most respected legal and community leaders. He is truly a Colorado Legal Legend.