Democratic attorney general candidate Michael Dougherty says he would offer more than just “resistance” to feds
Michael Dougherty remembers his first trial well: the case of a UPS truck driver who had stolen a valuable watch he was supposed to deliver.
Dougherty, then a fresh face at the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, was assigned the case because his superiors knew he had worked his way through community college moonlighting as a UPS truck loader.
He got the conviction and quickly climbed the ranks, specializing in sexual assault and homicide cases at a time when crime in New York City was at an all-time high.
Dougherty visited Colorado in the early 2000s to run the Pikes Peak marathon. He decided then that it was time to make the move, and shortly thereafter he relocated with his wife and two kids to Boulder.
The 45-year-old now serves as assistant District Attorney for Colorado’s First Judicial District, which covers Jefferson and Gilpin counties. Last week, he announced his candidacy in the Democratic primary for Attorney General. The Summit Daily caught up with Dougherty to talk about his bid to be the state’s top lawyer.
Summit Daily News: What initially brought you out to Colorado?
Michael Dougherty: I initially came out and ran the Pikes Peak Marathon — as you can imagine training in Brooklyn for the Pikes Peak Marathon is not the model training program — but it was an amazing experience and I went back to New York committed to moving to Colorado.
Then in 2010 the attorney general’s office secured a federal grant to look at cases to determine if anyone was wrongfully convicted of murder, manslaughter or sexual assault. And I was given the opportunity to start up that project and supervise that project and my wife and I decided it was just such an incredible opportunity to be part of a prosecution-led effort to determine if anyone had been wrongfully convicted in Colorado.
One of those cases led to the exoneration of Robert Dewey out of Grand Junction. He had been convicted of and served 18 years for a murder that he did not commit, and the re-investigation that the attorney general’s office was a part of that led to his exoneration, the DNA analysis also helped identify and charge the actual killer.
SDN: What motivated you to run for attorney general?
MD: We face significant challenges and tough issues as a state and as a nation, and when I look at the chaos and dysfunction at the federal level I look at the role the attorney general can play here in Colorado when it comes to protecting our environment, preserving public safety and ensuring transparency in government.
Those issues are so important to me, and the attorney general has to be absolutely committed to doing the right thing every day. Keeping politics out of it and just doing the right thing.
It’s about more than just talking about resistance (to the federal government). Because the taxpayers of Colorado don’t want someone who’s just going to file lawsuits that we lose over and over again with the federal government. It’s about picking and choosing our battles and fighting the ones that we need to fight — and winning them.
SDN: What are some of those most important fights?
MD: Right now in the coming fight category I would say are the comments we hear out of the federal government about our national parks and our public lands. I would strongly oppose those being transferred to the state or local communities without any funding system. So I would like to keep those as federal lands protected for all people, not just Coloradans but also the people that visit our great state. So that’s one area that I’m particularly concerned about.
SDN: What are some of the biggest issues facing Colorado’s criminal justice system and what would you do to address them?
MD: The statistic I look at the most and that calls for criminal justice reform in Colorado is that within three years of an inmate’s release from prison in Colorado, 48 percent are returning to prison.
So 48 percent of everyone that goes to state prison is back within three years. We cannot point to that number and call our criminal justice system a success. That’s far too high in my mind, and it’s an area we can and should work on.
We should have more prevention programs and more treatment programs in place so that people who are struggling with drug addiction can break the cycle and get out of it before they end up in the criminal justice system.
We have a drug recovery court in our jurisdiction that works extremely well, and we’ve been very successful. But I want to see more people getting that kind of treatment before they even hit the doors of the courthouse.
So I would work very proactively on the prevention and treatment side and also bring more criminal justice reform so that people aren’t simply cycling in and out of prison. That doesn’t help anyone, it doesn’t serve the taxpayers well and we need to do a better job of getting people — and helping people — back on the right track.
SDN: What would be your top priorities for your first 100 days in office?
MD: One of my first priorities would be to open a regional office on the Western slope. … I strongly believe that if you’re going to be a statewide leader that means getting outside the Metro Denver area. So I would open at least one regional office where staff would be working directly on behalf of the community as opposed to simply sending emails from Denver all around the state.
The second priority within those first 100 days would be to work with law enforcement and prosecutors to restore the trust and the relationship as well as the resources that we need coming from the attorney general’s office. Especially in the non-metro jurisdictions, DAs and law enforcement really need resource support from the attorney general’s office and I would immediately restore that.
SDN: This is shaping up to be a crowded race. What do you think sets you apart as a candidate?
MD: The attorney general should have experience as a prosecutor and experience working law enforcement. I think that’s absolutely essential to being a strong and effective attorney general. I’ve been a leader of large public law offices not only in Manhattan but also here in Colorado. Courtroom experience in my mind is absolutely essential when it comes to the attorney general.
And the final part I would add is that it’s not enough to say one is going to fight the federal government. We have to have an attorney that has the ability skills and experience to know which battles need to be fought and then win those battles.
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