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Politics and Government

Back-and-forth attacks over Colorado attorney general candidates’ criminal defense work hit TV as race heats up in final stretch

The contest is hitting its stride as both campaigns jockey for an edge in the final week of the election

Republican George Brauchler, left, and Democrat Phil Weiser, far right, at the Pro15 candidate debates in Weld County on Friday, Oct. 19, 2018. (Jacob Paul, Special to The Colorado Sun)
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The race for Colorado attorney general is getting more intense, with rival ads hitting the airwaves last week attacking each candidates’ past criminal defense work.

The battle began when the deep-pocketed group working to get Republican George Brauchler elected moved from criticizing Democrat Phil Weiser’s lack of courtroom experience to now chastising him for one of the cases he worked on.

In a new attack ad bringing their spending to some $4 million in the race, the Republican Attorneys General Association blasts Weiser for technical work in federal court on the case of a man who had been convicted of child sex abuse.

“Weiser apparently isn’t bothered by any of it,” Douglas County Commissioner Lora Thomas, a Republican, says in the ad.

Weiser’s campaign says the spot is very misleading and has launched an ad of their own to rebut the claims. The Weiser video points out that Brauchler, as a criminal defense attorney, defended people accused of morally disreputable crimes as well.

“George Brauchler has defended people who’ve committed disturbing crimes,” Weiser says in the Democrat’s competing ad. “He knows how our justice system works.”

Democrat Phil Weiser, left, and Republican George Brauchler, the two candidates for Colorado attorney general, debate in Colorado Springs at a face-off sponsored by The Gazette and KOAA-TV on Saturday, Oct. 13, 2018. (Nathan Hahn, Special to The Colorado Sun)

The very public battle is capping off what’s become a heated final weeks in the neck-and-neck race for attorney general that’s been marked by increasingly personal barbs as both sides jockey for an edge. As The Colorado Sun reported would happen earlier this month, the contest’s visibility is increasing in the closing stretch.

The Sun took a look at both ads to see what’s true, and what’s not, in their claims:

First, let’s examine the RAGA ad

The spot claims that Weiser defended twice-convicted pedophile from Oklahoma named Anthony Warnick in court, asking that his client be released early from incarceration for good behavior. Warnick then later went on to reoffend and was convicted of child pornography charges and failing to register as a sex offender, according to the ad.

Weiser did handle a portion of Warnick’s case after he was asked in 2005 by the high-powered, Denver-based 10th Circuit Court of Appeals to argue — pro bono — the constitutionality of the method used to determine Warnick’s good-behavior credits.

The court decided to dig into the methods further after Weiser’s arguments were made.

Weiser was not Warnick’s defense attorney and to characterize that his sole purpose in the case was to argue Warnick should be released early is a stretch.

Yes, in court filings Weiser discusses how he thinks Warnick should be released early, but, again, the question Weiser was dealing with had to do with the constitutionality of a good-behavior credit.

MORE: Read Weiser’s filing in the Warnick case

The ad — which brings RAGA’s spending in Colorado to a higher level than in any other state this cycle — also claims that Weiser is inexperienced.

It is true that Weiser does not have the courtroom experience that Brauchler does. The Warnick case was one of four pro bono cases referred to him by the 10th Circuit court.

However, Weiser does have a broader history of legal work, including serving as dean of the University of Colorado Law School and as an attorney in the Justice Department under Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

Republicans argue that Weiser could have declined to take on the Warnick case, but Weiser’s campaign maintains that it would have been highly unusual to turn down a request from such a powerful panel.

MORE: Get to know Phil Weiser, the Democratic candidate for Colorado attorney general

Next, let’s look at Weiser’s ad

Weiser claims off the bat that Brauchler, the 18th Judicial District’s attorney, wants people to believe the attacks in the RAGA ad.

It’s worth noting that by law Brauchler and RAGA can’t coordinate with each other, and that RAGA is behind the Weiser attack ad, not Brauchler.

“I have never made an issue of a single client that Phil has chosen to represent,” Brauchler told The Sun in an interview last week. “I am not concerning myself with the third party ads of either side.”

Weiser also claims in the adthat Brauchler “has defended people who’ve committed disturbing crimes.”

MORE: George Brauchler vs. Phil Weiser: Where Colorado’s attorney general candidates stand on the issues, from marijuana to the death penalty

One of Brauchler’s defendants cited by the ad is William Allen Koontz. In 2009, when he was a student at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Koontz was accused of sexually assaulting a woman who told investigators she believed she had been drugged.

In court documents, Brauchler is listed as one of Koontz’ attorneys while he was working at the criminal defense firm of Cantafio Feldmann Nagel Margulis. Koontz eventually pleaded guilty in the case and received a deferred sentence, according to court records

But Brauchler says the ad dramatically overstates his role in the case. He says he was filling in for other lawyers in his firm and that he was not the primary defense attorney for Koontz.

“This is a case where I went to court one time for this guy on behalf of a law firm,” Brauchler said. “… I don’t even remember the facts of that case, that’s how little I had to do with it.”

Not the first attacks

These aren’t the first attack ads to surface in the attorney general’s race.

RAGA has been running an ad criticizing Weiser for weeks.

More recently, though, a spot from the Democratic Attorneys General Association — RAGA’s counterpart — released an ad targeting Brauchler on everything from abortion and climate change to health care and his words about President Donald Trump.

The ad claims Brauchler supports the Trump administration’s efforts to roll back pre-existing conditions protections in the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

That’s misleading.

Brauchler does oppose President Barack Obama’s signature health care law, but is against a lawsuit challenging pre-existing conditions protections in the policy brought by Republican attorneys general. The Trump administration, specifically Attorney General Jeff Sessions, has vowed not to defend the protections and Brauchler says that’s wrong.

Our partners at CBS4 also fact-checked claims in the ad that Brauchler doesn’t believe climate change is real. The television station reported that Brauchler does believe in climate change and thinks humans are at least in part to blame.

MORE: Get to know George Brauchler, the Republican candidate for Colorado attorney general

The bottom line

So, what do all these attack ads indicate?

They show just how close this race really is and reflect growing friction between the candidates.

In their past several debates, Brauchler and Weiser have been locked in some tense exchanges about who is better suited to be attorney general.

A good example is a back-and-forth they had during a recent face-off in Weld County about how to make sure the office extends services throughout the state.

VOTER GUIDE 2018: Resources, explainers, latest news and more

“I want to decentralize the attorney general’s office,” Brauchler said. “I want to start (by taking) investigators and prosecutors and put them in the places around Colorado that they don’t have the resources.”

Weiser shot back.

“The idea of branch offices, that infrastructructure of having to get an office, that’s a great 20th-century idea. In the 21st century, I’m about telework,” Weiser said. “… That’s being innovative.”

Meanwhile, Brauchler has been calling Weiser an “ideological Don Quixote” on the trail and has been painting him as a would-be “lawsuit machine” if elected.


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