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Gail L. Ireland

Gail L. Ireland

Gail L. Ireland

28th Colorado Attorney General
Term: 1941-1944

               In 1940, America was being drawn closer to World War II. Neville Chamberlain resigned as Prime Minister of Britain. The new Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, declared, “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.” Germany occupied Paris and France surrendered eight days later. America instituted a selective service system. On a lighter note, Gone With the Wind won eight Oscars and Best Picture of 1939. By 1940 the population of Colorado had reached 1,123,300.

               In the general election of 1940, Ralph L. Carr was reelected Governor. The results of the Attorney General’s race were not known for two weeks after Election Day, until the official canvas of votes showed Republican Gail Leonard Ireland had defeated Democrat James Griffith by 204 votes out of the 525,692 cast.

               Ireland was a native of Denver whose first cousin, Clarence, had served a term as Colorado Attorney General a decade earlier. Gail Ireland was born November 21, 1895 and at the age of one his family moved to a house on Box Elder Creek in Weld County. His father operated a grocery store, served as a postal clerk and established the Henry-Lin Irrigation system that transformed the Hudson area from cattle ranching to farming. Gail went to grade school and high school in six different schools. He entered the University of Colorado in 1914, but his studies were interrupted by World War I. He enlisted in a U. S. Army hospital unit in 1918. Upon his return from the war he enrolled at the University of Denver and completed his studies with a law degree in 1921. He clerked for the Chief Justice of the Colorado Supreme Court, Tully Scott, immediately after graduation. He had several law firm associations, including one with his cousin Clarence. In 1938 he campaigned hard for Ralph Carr in his gubernatorial run.[1]

               In his 1940 campaign for Attorney General, Ireland emphasized his business expertise and promised “a more economical administration of government.” He indicated he had gained much of his relevant knowledge on the “business end of a shovel” and held himself out as one of the state’s outstanding water lawyers.[2]

               When he took office as Attorney General, Gail Ireland appointed H. Lawrence Hinkley as Deputy Attorney General and Duke Dunbar as First Assistant. Both would later become Attorney General. There were seventeen Assistant Attorneys General including one woman, Barbara Lee. For the first time the office also hired an investigator. It was also undergoing another organizational change. The Securities Division, Bank Commission, Insurance Department, and the Public Utilities Commission were moved out of the Department of Law and into a Division of Commerce in the executive branch. On the other hand, a formal Inheritance Tax Division was set up in the Attorney General’s Office.

               In Ireland’s first term, the office handled four cases in the U.S. Supreme Court and 58 cases in the State Supreme Court. It brought over 75 condemnation cases throughout the state. Over 1,100 miles of highway in Colorado were designated essential to the national defense and U.S. 24, U.S. 40, and other major thoroughfares were being widened and improved. Despite the threat of war, two million tourists in 630,000 cars visited Colorado in 1941. Gas tax collections rose to over ten million dollars. Criminal cases reported in 1941 included charges of murder by abortion, conspiracy to commit abortion, larceny of livestock, and running a confidence game. The office issued 830 opinions in 1941 and 1942 relating to a variety of issues, many pertaining to military personnel. More than 2,000 Coloradoans enlisted in Denver in the month of December, 1941 alone. Colorado’s agricultural production was greatly expanded to meet war time needs and agriculture was another popular subject of litigation, as were education, elections, transportation, and taxation. The office reversed a previous Attorney General’s opinion and held parolees were not allowed to vote under the Colorado Constitution.[3]

               Ireland was reelected in 1942. By that time, 140,000 Coloradoans were serving in the military. The war brought a much greater federal presence to Colorado. Several military bases had been established, including Fort Carson in Colorado Springs and Lowry Air Force Base in Denver. Japanese-Americans were interred at Camp Amache in southeastern Colorado. Governor Ralph Carr, unlike other western Governors, welcomed Japanese- Americans to Colorado and vowed they would be treated humanely. He decried the fact that American citizens were being interred.

               Ireland created a Securities Fraud Unit in anticipation of the “unscrupulous promoters” who would raid people’s savings after the war came to an end. The water wars with Kansas, Nebraska and Wyoming continued. As Attorney General, Ireland served on the Board of Education, the Board of Equalization, and the Colorado Water Conservation Board.[4]

               When he left office after four years, Gail Ireland resumed a full time private practice. He remained very active in water law issues serving on various interstate committees. He also remained active in politics and was a delegate to the Republican National Convention in 1948. He served as a director of the Bank of Denver, was a founding director of KUSA-TV and a founding partner in the law firm of Ireland, Stapleton and Pryor. He was a member of numerous civic organizations. Gail Ireland died February 12, 1988 at the age of 92. He is buried at Fairmont Cemetery in Denver.


[1] Denver Post, Empire Profile, March 30, 1952.

[2] Political Flyer, Denver Public Library, Historical Collection.

[3] Biennial Report of the Attorney General for 1941-1942, Colorado State Archives.

[4] Biennial Report of the Attorney General for 1943-1944, Colorado State Archives.