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Gale A. Norton

Gale A. Norton

Gale A. Norton

35th Colorado Attorney General
Term: 1991-1999

              By 1990 the State of Colorado had grown to 3,294,000 people. The Attorney General’s Office was approaching 300 employees and Colorado had its first female Attorney General. Long time office employees did not know what to expect. Gale Norton quickly made some changes at the top. She hired Ray Slaughter, a long time prosecutor and director of the state’s District Attorneys’ council, to be Chief Deputy Attorney General. She hired a young private practitioner, Tim Tymkovich, to be Solicitor General. Tymkovich would later become a Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge. Deputy Attorneys General included John Dailey in Criminal Enforcement and Appeals, Garth Lucero in Consumer Protection, and Maurice Knaizer in State Services.

               Gale Norton was born March 11, 1954 in Wichita, Kansas. Her family moved to Colorado when she was five. She attended Thornton High School and graduated magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Denver in 1975. She graduated from the University of Denver Law School in 1978. She served as an intern at the Colorado Attorney General’s Office during law school. For the next four years she served as an attorney for the Mountain States Legal Foundation founded by James Watt. In 1983 and 1984 she was a National Fellow for the Hoover Institution. She spent two years working as the assistant to the Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington before becoming an Associate Solicitor for the U.S. Department of Interior in 1985. In that capacity she was in charge of all the attorneys for the National Park and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services. After that experience she returned to Colorado. Originally a Libertarian, Norton became a Republican and worked hard to gain the party’s nomination for Attorney General.

               At her first session of the Joint Budget Committee, Norton endeared herself to the lawyers in the Attorney General’s Office by advocating that when the State Services Building was remodeled most lawyers should have private offices and not cubicles. The Committee agreed. In 1991 the office was temporarily housed in the Petroleum Club Building on 16th Street while the State Services Building was remodeled.

               Gale Norton became the Chairman of the Environmental Committee of the National Association of Attorneys General and was active in environmental issues during her tenure. She continued to pursue hazardous waste cleanup cases involving Rocky Flats and the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, but also supported changes in the law that encouraged companies to voluntarily admit environmental problems and pursue cleanup. She also opposed the federal government’s attempt to secure “reserved” water rights greater than what state law required. In 1991 Norton launched an investigation into land acquisition around Denver’s new airport.

In 1992, the voters of Colorado approved Amendment 2 to the state’s constitution. Its proponents argued it would prevent state and local government from giving preferential treatment to homosexuals. Opponents brought suit arguing it would prevent gays and lesbians from fighting discrimination. Oblivious to pressure from both sides of the controversial case, the suit was capably defended by the Attorney General’s Office and went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where it was argued by Solicitor General Tim Tymkovich. The Court struck down the law.

The voters also passed a Tax Payer Bill of Rights (TABOR) in 1992 that limited the growth of government revenues and required spending to decrease in relation to economic downturns. TABOR would profoundly impact the budget and financing of Colorado government for years to come. Norton’s office issued a variety of legal opinions clarifying various aspects of the law. It also issued several opinions clarifying the meaning of statewide and local government term limit provisions passed by voters in 1990 and 1994.

The year 1992 also saw the Colorado Peace Officer Standards and Training Board (POST) transferred from the Department of Public Safety to the Department of Law, with the Attorney General acting as chairman. POST consists of 24 members, primarily law enforcement officers, appointed by the Governor. The Board has the statutory authority to develop standards for training and certification, and revocation, of law enforcement officers in Colorado.

In 1993 and 1994 the Attorney General’s Office prosecuted five members of an extremist Muslim group called ul-Fuqra, which had a compound near Buena Vista, Colorado. The group was doing paramilitary training in the United States long before al Qaeda attacked on September 11, 2001. The group in Buena Vista supported themselves by committing fraud against public assistance programs. The successful prosecution was led by Assistant Attorney General Doug Wamsley.

The Attorney General’s Office defended Colorado State University against a Title IX suit alleging it violated federal law by eliminating the school’s women’s softball program, but the Attorney General refused to defend a suit brought against the state by a highway contractor alleging that minority racial preferences in the bidding process were unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately sided with the contractor. The Attorney General’s Office pursued investigations and prosecutions of anti-government groups that were filing false liens against various government officials, including Norton herself.

In the 1994 general election Gale Norton was challenged by Democratic lawyer Dick Freese. Norton swept to an easy victory. In her second term, leadership in the office included former Grand Junction District Attorney Steve ErkenBrack, who served as Deputy Attorney General and Richard Westfall, who served as Solicitor General. ErkenBrack would be replaced by Marti Albright. Paul Chan served as Deputy for Administration.

Less than three months into her second term, Gale Norton announced her candidacy for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Hank Brown in 1996. She ran against Congressman Wayne Allard in the Republican primary and Allard eventually prevailed by a 57 percent to 43 percent margin.

In 1996 the Attorney General’s Office found itself defending a claim by the United States against Colorado. The federal government alleged it was owed $21 million for unauthorized airplane fly-overs done by the Colorado National Guard. After over a hundred depositions, the feds backed off and the matter was settled for $150,000.

In 1998, 46 states settled with the major tobacco companies for an amount estimated to be in the range of $240 billion, the largest lawsuit settlement in history. Colorado had joined the case late, after the Attorney General’s Office became convinced that Colorado law had been violated based on documentation showing the companies had deliberately suppressed information concerning the adverse health aspects of tobacco. Nevertheless, Gale Norton and Deputy Attorney General Marti Albright played an important role in negotiating the Master Settlement Agreement. Unlike most other states, Colorado handled the tobacco litigation in-house and did not hire outside counsel on a contingency fee basis, thereby saving millions of dollars.

When Gale Norton left office in January of 1999 due to term limits, she joined the Denver law firm of Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber and Strickland, specializing in business regulation and environmental and natural resource issues. However, in January of 2001 she was nominated by President George W. Bush to be the 48th United States Secretary of the Interior. After a contentious confirmation process, she was confirmed as the first woman to manage the massive federal department. She served as Secretary of the Interior until March of 2006. In 2007 she returned to Colorado to become a general counsel for Royal Dutch Shell Unconventional Oil working primarily with oil shale and in-situ oil sands projects. She later formed Norton Regulatory Strategies, a consulting firm that assists companies deal with environmental regulations, headquartered in Aurora.