Name the new Justice Center for somebody just enough: Philip Van Cise

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Philip Van Cise.

On November 19, Mayor John Hickenlooper sent out the formal invitation, inviting locals to come up with names for the two new buildings that will comprise the Denver Justice Center Complex. But the behind-the-scenes maneuvering to find the right name has been underway for some time, and we have a strong suggestion of our own: Philip Van Cise.

According to a city ordinance, public buildings can be named only for "outstanding persons who have been influential in the cultural, political, economical or social life of the community or in recognition of an individual or corporation which has contributed substantial funding for the construction" of said buildings. In other words, the new jail and courthouse naming rights could actually be sold to the highest bidder. How about the Anschutz Chutes or the Kroenke Klink?

But the new buildings aren't just another administrative center or parking garage. When it's a matter of justice, there's a better alternative than selling out to the corporate types. As first reported months ago in my feature "Scourge of the Underworld," a campaign has been launched to honor one of the state's most intriguing -- and much-neglected -- public servants by dedicating the new detention center to his memory.

Van Cise was Denver's district attorney for only term in the 1920s, but what a time he had of it. He took on Lou Blonger's underworld of confidence men when many cops and most of the city administration was on the take, busted the mob using wiretaps and other innovations that were decades ahead of their time, and then locked them up in a church basement because the city jailer was corrupt. He then investigated and tried to prosecute the leaders of Colorado's Ku Klux Klan, which had virtually shanghaied state politics -- an effort that cost him his job and almost his life. He also wrote a terrific book, long out of print, called Fighting the Underworld.

Van Cise was blackballed by the Denver Post and never held public office again, although his son later became a prominent appeals court judge. But he seems to be emerging from oblivion at last, thanks largely to the efforts of his grandchildren and others involved in the justice center campaign. He's mentioned as one of Denver's influential people in a Rocky Mountain News package celebrating Denver's 150th anniversary, and even Lou Blonger's descendants are pulling for him -- see the online petition available at The Van Cise Project.

Will there be justice for Van Cise at last? That may depend on who else's name is in the ring. Nominations are being taken through December 10; every submission must include a petition with at least 100 signatures in support of the candidate. For more information on the naming process, contact Anthony Aragon of the city's Agency for Human Rights and Community Relations, 720-913-8462. -- Alan Prendergast


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