Hundreds of people gathered Sunday morning to honor the life, career and accomplishments of the former Chief Justice Charles “Charlie” Daniels.
As an early morning rain began to dissipate, friends, family and colleagues shuffled into Albuquerque’s Popejoy Hall to pay their respects. The crowd included a who’s who in political and legal circles.
Daniels died September 1 of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham spoke at the memorial and said she first met Daniels through his passion for music, which he regularly played at bars and restaurants across the state.
“I got to know what a kind and generous and funny person Charlie Daniels is,” Lujan Grisham said.
The governor also dedicated September 15 to the memory of Daniels.
Speakers fought through tears to tell heartfelt and funny stories about Daniels’ almost 50-year legal career. The theme of the morning was that Daniels was serious while simultaneously funny.
New Mexico Supreme Court Chief Justice Judith Nakamura recounted Daniels’ devotion to making sure the high court remained open to the public, despite financially difficult times for the state. “He modeled frugality by removing half of the lightbulbs in the Supreme Court’s halls, leaving us walking in the dark and writing on the back of scratch paper, using free pens that he picked up at banks and hotels, not just to save the state a few dollars, but to demonstrate that we were committed to do whatever we needed to do to keep the courts open and accessible,” Nakamura said.
She added that he was usually the first person to arrive at the Supreme Court building, with little patience for inclimate weather excuses from others.
“He often reminded both the justices as well as our court staff, ‘Pay attention to the laws of physics and don’t be a snow wussy,'” Nakamura said.
In addition to his legal career, Daniels played in a band with other legal professionals called “Lawyers, Guns and Money” and for the past 20 years in a band called “The Incredible Woodpeckers.” Retired state District Judge Tommy Jewell and former bandmate of Daniels’ recounted a proposed band name Daniels came up with, illustrating the justice’s sense of humor.
“We struggled with a name,” Jewell said.