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Clarence L. Ireland

Clarence L. Ireland

Clarence L. Ireland

25th Colorado Attorney General
Term: 1931-1932

               According to the 1930 census, Colorado’s population had topped one million, although it had grown by less than 100,000 since 1920. The Attorney General’s staff numbered 27 when Clarence Ireland took office in January, 1931. Among the dozen Assistant Attorneys General who served under Ireland was a female attorney, Miss Hazel Costello. In July of 1931, Charles Roach resigned as Deputy Attorney General after many years of dedicated service, but Mr. Roach would not remain in the private sector for long.

               Clarence Leo Ireland was born in Littleton, Colorado on December 5, 1889. He graduated from the University of Colorado in 1913 and the CU Law School in 1916. In 1917 he enlisted in the Army and became an aviator. Upon his discharge in 1919 he practiced law in Greeley until moving to Denver in 1922 to become an Assistant U. S. Attorney under J. Foster Symes. Symes would subsequently become the youngest federal judge in the country and a judicial legend during his seventeen years on the bench. Ireland married Bess Low in 1918 and they had two daughters. Ireland had been an active Republican before his election as Attorney General, identified with what became known as the “Hamlin-Coen-Waterman” faction of the party.

               Soon after being elected, Ireland was designated by Governor William Adams, along with the State Water Engineer, to attend a hearing called by the Secretary of Interior for the six Colorado River basin states. The purpose was to consider plans for a comprehensive survey of the reclamation and hydroelectric resources of the basin to be done in connection with the construction of Boulder Dam. In May of 1931 the U. S. Supreme Court decided Arizona v. California et al, 283 U.S. 423 (1931) in which Arizona sued the other basin states to block construction of the dam and void the Colorado River Compact. The Court decided against Arizona and the dam project proceeded. The dam was later renamed Hoover Dam.

               In his report to the Governor at the conclusion of his term, Ireland joined his predecessors in describing the protection of Colorado’s interstate water rights as “probably of first importance among the various duties of the Attorney General.” With the onset of the Depression, Colorado’s tax revenues decreased significantly and Ireland was asked to become involved in many resulting legal issues. He opined that the public schools in Colorado were costing “more than necessary” and that the same standards of education could be achieved with “considerably less money” if the schools were reorganized into a “county unit” system. He also felt the economic conditions led to more people trying to evade gasoline taxes and that the Depression had brought to light many weaknesses in state law pertaining to the regulation of building and loan associations. Over 19 million dollars of investor funds were tied up in insolvent associations. “Unscrupulous manipulators” were to blame and the Attorney General recommended the adoption of a proposed bill before the legislature that was drafted by an Attorney General committee. The Attorney General was also critical of the health laws of Colorado, calling them “extremely antiquated.” He supported a modernization bill drafted by another Attorney General-appointed committee. In addition to a Health Laws Committee and a Building and Loan Committee, Ireland had created five-person committees to look into public school law, county government, and highway commercial carriers. Ireland was defensive in asserting that in creating the committees he had no intention to usurp the legislative function.[1]

               Ireland was asked for his opinion on the respective powers and duties of the warden of the state penitentiary versus the Board of Corrections. His response was harsh toward the warden. “The conditions at the penitentiary are deplorable,” he said. “If you cannot and will not function as warden, it is your plain duty to resign and permit the Governor to appoint a warden who can and will perform the functions of that office.” In more amicable opinions he said candidates should not put candy and cigars at polling places and that first cousins could marry each other.

               In 1931 the Colorado Supreme Court issued an opinion that gave the most thorough analysis to date of the powers of the Colorado Attorney General. Both Attorney General Leslie Hubbard in 1917 and Attorney General William Boatright in 1925 had issued opinions saying the Attorney General had “full common law powers” to do everything attorneys general could traditionally do at common law. In Colorado State Board of Pharmacy v. Hallett, 88 Colo. 331, 296 P.540 (1931), the court was asked whether the legislature could statutorily limit the exercise of common law powers. The court held in the affirmative:

Whatever the duties the Attorney General had at common law he still may have except in so far as they have been taken away by legislative enactment…Our courts generously hold that the office of the Attorney General is clothed with all the powers and privileges which belong to it under the common law of England…But our General Assembly by legislative act [can] repeal or abrogate any part of the common law…

               In mid-1932 Clarence Ireland ended speculation he would run for Governor of Colorado. In fact he announced that he would not seek reelection as Attorney General. He indicated a desire to devote time to his private practice. And he did practice in Denver for many years to come. In 1956 he made headlines when he was reprimanded and fined $100 for contempt of court. He lost his temper in a state district court proceeding in front of Judge Franz. He accused the Judge of not having read the record and conducting “a star chamber proceeding.” He threw a stack of law books at his opposing counsel, George Creamer. At the contempt hearing Ireland said the remarks and interruptions of opposing counsel had “infuriated” him and caused him to make statements “unbecoming an officer of the court.” He asked the court to accept his sincere apologies.

               Ireland attended the Republican National Convention in the summer of 1956. In 1968 he and his wife donated $25,000 to the University of Colorado library system. Clarence Ireland is buried at Fairmont Cemetery in Denver.


[1] Biennial Report of the Attorney General for 1931-1932, Colorado State Archives.