Colorado Supreme Court Justice Carlos Samour visits MHS government class, urges students to “dream big” and never settle

Social Studies teachers host “Judge Day” the first week of March; one class hosted Justice Carlos Samour, famous for being the judge ruling over the Aurora Theatre Shooting and many state-level immigration cases


Andy Cross from The Denver Post

CENTENNIAL, CO – JUNE 04: Arapahoe County district judge, Carlos Samour, Jr. presides over an advisement hearing for James Holmes Tuesday morning June 04, 2013 at the Arapahoe County Justice Center. Holmes is accused of killing 12 people and injuring 70 others in a shooting rampage at an Aurora theater, July 20th, 2012. The court accepted James Holmes plea of not guilty by reason of insanity and has ordered a sanity evaluation at the Colorado Mental Health Institute of Pueblo. (Photo By AndyCross/The Denver Post)

During the first week of March, social studies teacher Ms. Erin Warren invited Colorado Supreme Court Justice Carlos Samour to be a guest speaker for her American Government class. All of the government classes had guest speakers come in via WebEx to talk with students.

Prior to Justice Samour visiting the class, Ms. Warren had her students complete preparation to help them better understand who Justice Samour was. She asked that her students “come up with two to three questions to ask him and [send] the questions to him ahead of time”.

One of Ms. Warren’s students, Katie Couch (‘22), said that to prepare for having Justice Samour as a visitor, she “personally read Justice Samour’s biography”.

Justice Samour was born in El Salvador and immigrated to the United States when he was 13 years old due to a threat to his father’s life during his time as a judge. Justice Samour said that “both sides were probably [his] enemy, unfortunately” when telling the class about how his father was seen by the gangs and the military during his time as a judge in El Salvador.

When discussing how his family ended up in Colorado, Justice Samour said that they “had family in California, family in New York, and family in Colorado”. He believed Colorado was the best option. Justice Samour explained that his family was supposed to go back to El Salvador when it was less dangerous, but as things worsened, they extended their visas until they eventually applied for permanent residency and citizenship.

When Justice Samour still lived in El Salvador, he attended an all-boys Catholic school and experienced vast cultural shock when he came to Colorado and attended a co-ed public school. “Not only did they not speak the same language as me, but they had different kinds of foods from what I was used to,” said Justice Samour.

Justice Samour never thought he would have to learn English, but while learning the language, he continuously asked himself, “How many wars are the result of language barriers?”

Justice Samour realized that he wanted to pursue law due to his childhood memories of watching his dad and always bugging his dad to take him to a trial. When he was finally old enough to go with his dad, he was instantly hooked. Samour said he “would often play lawyer by wearing [his] dad’s jackets and ties”.

Justice Samour went to the University of Colorado at Denver where he majored in psychology and minored in political science before pursuing his law degree. He was originally appointed to the Denver district court where he spent 10 years as a prosecutor before being appointed to the Colorado Supreme Court in 2018 by Governor John Hickenlooper.

Justice Samour said being appointed to the Colorado Supreme Court was “another thing [he’d] never forget”. He had applied more than once. “The first time, I didn’t even get an interview. The second time, I got the interview… but didn’t make it past [it]… During my third try, I tied for the third finalist position.”

Of the fourth time Justice Samour applied, he said, “I took off work that morning because my interview was in the afternoon… It started raining on my way to the interview, and I tried to wait out the rain because it’s Colorado, and the weather changes all the time.” He ended up soaked when he was forced to run to the building from his car. “While I was trying to dry myself off with paper towels in the bathroom, the lights went out… When I went out to the hall it was completely deserted until the fire department arrived.”

During his interview, Justice Samour joked with the panel about how this wasn’t the first time something seemingly disastrous happened before something big.

After the interviews, Governor Hickenlooper had 15 days to announce who the new judge was going to be. Justice Samour said that Governor Hickenlooper “usually waited until the last day to announce his choice”, so he didn’t start to worry until the end of the 15 days. When Justice Samour got the call from Governor Hickenlooper, he said Hickenlooper told him that he “was going to appoint [him] no matter what and just wanted to have a conversation with him”.

During his time as a judge, Justice Samour was given the chance to rule on the Aurora Theatre Shooting case and has worked closely with the Hispanic Bar Association. He said that he still remembers finding out he was ruling on the Aurora Theatre Shooting case because it was “one of those things that stays with you forever”. When asked by a student in the class what the most intense case he ever ruled on, he answered that it was probably the Aurora Theatre Shooting case because it took such an extensive period of time to have everything figured out. Justice Samour describes his work with the Hispanic Bar Association as important because he wants to help “diversify the board” as he believes “it is better for the community when the board represent[s] the community better”.

He has also done a lot of work with immigration. Due to his personal experience with it, he feels he can relate more to individuals and help them feel comfortable in a place that is difficult to be in as an immigrant.

Students had extremely positive reactions to Justice Samour’s guest appearance.

Alejandro Quintana (‘21) said that he “was inspired by this man. He really shows that truly no matter what, even if you are from a different country… if you really have your mind set to something in this world, you can do it just with a little hard work.”

Quintana continued to say that Justice Samour showed that “you can’t really be afraid to get up and get your hands dirty”. Quintana learned from Justice Samour that “if you don’t [work to achieve your goals], nobody else is going to do it for you”.

Couch said that she “would love for other students to experience this” and felt “very inspired by Justice Samour”.

She also said she thought Justice Samour’s experience “is an experience that everyone should learn about”.

“The life lessons and the journey Samour has been on is like none other,” Couch (‘22) said.

Quintana said that a message that he could take from learning about Justice Samour’s life experiences is that “no matter how bad things get or no matter how rough stuff is, it’s still your home and there are still [positive things] that happen”.

“You need to not focus a lot on the negative [things] and really appreciate what you were given,” he added.

Quintana also supported his classmate’s sentiment about the importance of this type of experience on students. He believes that “more students should… get a chance to sit down and hear what [Justice Samour] has to say”.

Quintana continued saying that the experience also helped further the understanding that he had about the justice system because he “already had the bare, basic knowledge of how the court system works and about cases… but to hear about it and put two and two together… is a lot easier to follow and see the structures [of the courts]”.

Ms. Warren said, “I hope my students walked away with a better understanding of the judicial system as well as a sense of how resilient one must be to have success in life.”

In closing, Justic Samour said,“The biggest gift [my family] gave me was tell me that I can do anything.”

To reiterate his point, he told students to “just remember what [he] said. Dream big. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. Don’t settle for second best.”