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Benjamin Griffith

Benjamin Griffith

Benjamin Griffith

16th Colorado Attorney General
Term: 1911-1912

               By 1910 the population of Colorado had reached 800,000 and the state had become increasingly urbanized. But there were still 46,000 farms in the state and a great deal of mining activity. In the election of 1920 Democrat Governor John Shafroth was reelected but a Republican lawyer from Grand Junction, Benjamin Griffith, was elected Attorney General.

               Griffith was born in New Castle, Washington on September 22, 1879. His parents were immigrants from Wales and his father, a coal miner, brought the family to Fremont County, Colorado in 1880. Griffith attended public schools in the county and then attended Colorado College where he excelled in football and baseball. He graduated in 1901. He then moved to Denver and was appointed head football coach for the University of Denver. He also attended the D. U. Law School. He excelled at both tasks.

               After graduation from law school in 1904, Griffith moved to Montrose to practice law. He was elected City Attorney for Montrose and appointed a Deputy District Attorney. He also served as chairman of the county Republican Party. He moved to Grand Junction in 1907 and served as Mesa County Attorney.

               Upon his election as Attorney General, Griffith was aided by Deputy Attorney General Archibald Lee and Assistant Attorneys General Charles O’Connor, Phillip Mothersill, Theodore Stuart, and a “special counsel,” George Talbot. The office became involved in a number of railroad related cases. It successfully defended the constitutionality of the Railroad Act of 1907 that set maximum rates. It also successfully opposed the abandonment of a narrow gauge line between Como and Breckenridge, which cut off passenger service between Leadville and Denver. The Railroad Commission ordered the line to operate and the State Supreme Court upheld the action.

               Griffith hailed the successful completion of the “Grocery Trust” case brought in 1907 and brought suit against 29 other companies alleging illegal combinations, particularly in the wholesale and retail lumber business. He instituted investigations of several building and loan associations, alleging unsafe and unauthorized practices necessitating the appointment of receivers. He unsuccessfully defended the constitutionality of a “flat tax” as part of the annual corporate license tax.

               Griffith completed the case against the warden of the state penitentiary begun by his predecessor. After a four week trial the jury found the defendant not guilty. Griffith noted, however, the jury was outspoken in its belief that the warden had engaged in gross negligence in failing to keep current and accurate books.

               Griffith was called upon to issue several opinions regarding a constitutional amendment providing for a voter initiative and referendum process adopted by the voters in the 1910 election. He successfully defended a constitutional challenge to the amendment, which would prove to play a significant role in the subsequent political history of the state. Finally, Griffith reported on the progress of a number of interstate water disputes involving the Rio Grande, Laramie and Arkansas Rivers.[1]

               Benjamin Griffith ran for reelection in 1912, but on the Progressive (Bull Moose) ticket, rather than as a Republican. He lost to Democrat Fred Farrar in a five way race that included Republican William Gobin. Griffith resumed his private practice after leaving office and in 1914 made an unsuccessful run for the U. S. Senate, again on the Bull Moose ticket. In 1922 he made an unsuccessful run for Governor as a Republican. He became a professor of law at the University of Denver and taught for 25 years, while also helping to coach the football and baseball teams. Griffith was active in the Congregational Church and the Masons and served as a trustee of Colorado College. His wife, Fannie Bell Finch, died in 1942 and one of his four sons was killed in World War II. Benjamin Griffith died in Denver on September 7, 1972, two weeks short of his ninety-third birthday.[2] A biographer called him “a most able minister in the temple of justice.”

[1] Biennial Report of the Attorney General for 1911-1912, Colorado State Archives.

[2] Denver Post, September 8, 1972.