Health care lawsuit spurs Colo. AG's Democratic challenger

Kathy Woods Apr. 8, 2010, 1:00pm

John Suthers (R)

Stan Garnett (D)

BOULDER, Colo. (Legal Newsline) - Colorado Attorney General John Suthers faces a Democratic challenger this year at least partly because of his decision to sue the federal government over its attempt to mandate health insurance for most Americans.

Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett, a Democrat, said it was Suthers's stance on the recently enacted federal health care overhaul that prompted him to run against the Republican attorney general.

Suthers is among a group of more than a dozen Republican attorneys general and the Democratic AG from Louisiana challenging the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which will require that most Americans have medical coverage by 2014 or face financial penalties.

Medical marijuana is another hot-button issue that Suthers and Garnett have disagreement. Garnett's focus has been keeping control of pot dispensaries in a way he says is consistent with the state's medical marijuana statutes. Suthers, on the other hand, says he disagrees with the dispensary system, arguing it violates Amendment 20.

The ballot measure, which became law in 2000, defines the rights of medical marijuana users. Among other rights, the law allows possession of up to two ounces of pot and cultivation of up to six marijuana plants for medical use. The law also protects legitimate medical marijuana users from civil and criminal penalties.

Before being elected Boulder district attorney in 2008, Garnett practiced for 22 years with the Denver law offices of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck LLP. He specialized in complex litigation. From 1982 to 1986, he was a deputy DA in the Denver District Attorney's Office.

Garnett received his undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Colorado. In the 1997 and 2001 elections, he was elected to the Boulder Valley School Board.

Prior to announcing that he would run for AG, Garnett had reportedly told the Colorado Business Journal of the attorney general post: "I think it's a challenging, interesting job, but frankly so is being district attorney in Boulder. The basic thing that would keep me from running is I'm really enjoying being DA and I have a pretty clear plan for what I want to do with this office and I don't want to walk away."

Suthers earned an undergraduate degree in government from the University of Notre Dame, near South Bend, Ind., and is a graduate of the University of Colorado Law School.

He served as deputy and chief deputy district attorney in Colorado Springs from 1977 until 1981. He then spent seven years in private law practice, serving as a litigation partner in the Colorado Springs law firm of Sparks Dix P.C.

In 1988, Suthers was elected district attorney of the Fourth Judicial District, which includes El Paso and Teller counties. In 2001, Suthers was appointed by Republican President George W. Bush as United States Attorney for the District of Colorado.

Four years later, following the state attorney general at the time Ken Salazar's election to the U.S. Senate in 2005, then-Gov. Bill Owens nominated -- and the state Senate confirmed -- Suthers to complete the remaining two years of Salazar's term.

In 2006, Suthers was elected to a full four-year term as the Centennial State's chief legal officer. In the general election, Suthers beat Fern O'Brien, the Democratic Party's nominee for attorney general, by nine points.

Suthers has a seat on the executive committee of the National Association of Attorneys General, and he became chairman of the Conference of Western Attorneys General last year.

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Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck
410 17th Street
Denver, CO 80202

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