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Opinion Columns

Opinion: Do not be fooled: Here’s what it really takes to be Colorado’s next attorney general

We are Gov. John W. Hickenlooper’s chief legal counsel, past and present. Like many Coloradans, we are watching the November elections closely, particularly the race for Colorado’s next attorney general.

For us, there is no more qualified candidate than Phil Weiser.

He has the experience and, most importantly, the judgment necessary to take on the full responsibilities of this important office.

Between us, we have worked with two different attorneys general daily, and for nearly eight years. We are troubled after viewing a television advertisement sponsored by the Republican Attorneys General Association, suggesting that the attorney general’s office manages principally criminal prosecutions and needs to be led by someone with criminal trial experience.

That is just not true.

Courtroom (or trial) experience has never been a requirement for a Colorado attorney general.

Stephanie Donner

Only one of the last four attorneys general had significant trial experience. Our current attorney general, Cynthia Coffman, had no courtroom experience before taking the job.

 Instead, she had years of government experience as an attorney for the Colorado General Assembly, for Gov. Bill Owens, and for the Department of Public Health and Environment. Before Cynthia Coffman, Attorney General John Suthers came from a prosecution background.

Prior to John Suthers, Attorney General Ken Salazar served as chief legal counsel to Gov. Roy Romer and head of the Department of Natural Resources, notably with little courtroom experience.

Jacki Cooper Melmed

And before him, Gale Norton worked for a policy think tank and then for two federal agencies before her stint as Colorado’s attorney general — also not a trial lawyer.

READ: Opinion columnists at The Colorado Sun.

Each one of these attorneys general brought diverse backgrounds to the office and served our state with distinction.

The truth is, the elected attorney general does not “try cases,” and criminal matters are a small part of the work of the office. The attorney general rarely, if ever, appears in court. We are not aware of an acting Colorado attorney general themselves trying any sort of case in court in decades.

Rather, the attorney general’s job is to lead the office, managing a large team of lawyers who litigate cases (at the trial and appellate level), develop regulations, negotiate contracts, and work on a range of matters.

The attorney general is the lawyer for all of state government. The office advises its state clients about a variety of issues including consumer protection, election law, land use, water law, telecommunications, transactional work, and more.

Our years of experience working with Colorado attorneys general lead us to a simple conclusion: The best attorney general is a lawyer with impeccable judgment and a breadth of legal experience. A lawyer like Phil Weiser.

We know Phil well. He is a recognized expert in telecommunications, antitrust, and constitutional law, he clerked for two Supreme Court justices, and he handled consumer protection matters at the Justice Department under two presidents.

We have often called on Phil for advice when the governor considers complex legal issues such as protecting our air, land and water, upholding our constitutional values, and expanding broadband services to every corner of our state.

Phil’s legal advice is rooted in years of practicing law, advising clients, and shaping policy at the federal and state level. Phil’s judgment is unparalleled in this legal community.

Many lawyers have courtroom skills, but few have the range of skills and experience Phil Weiser has. Phil has a track record of exercising good judgment, upholding the rule of law, handling budgets responsibly, managing complex organizations, and building bridges across political divides.

Phil Weiser is the most qualified candidate to become Colorado’s next attorney general.

Jacki Cooper Melmed is Gov. John Hickenlooper’s current Chief Legal Counsel.  Stephanie F. Donner is Hickenlooper’s former Chief Legal Counsel and former general counsel at Galvanize.