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Lawrence H. Hinkley

Lawrence H. Hinkley

Lawrence H. Hinkley

29th Colorado Attorney General
Term: 1945-1948

               When Ireland decided not to run for a third term in 1944, he endorsed the election of his Deputy, H. Lawrence Hinkley. Hinkley won a narrow victory over Democrat Richard Downing. His salary would be $7,000, recently raised from $6,000. He took office in January of 1945, a year in which Franklin Roosevelt died and both Germany and Japan surrendered.

Hinkley attended Sterling High School. He served in the Marines in World War I and received a Purple Heart. He graduated from the University of Colorado with a B.A. in 1920 and a law degree in 1921. He practiced law in Sterling for three years before being elected a County Court Judge in Logan County, a job he held for the next sixteen years. He served on the Board of Trustees for Western State College, Adams State College and Colorado Teachers’ College (now the University of Northern Colorado). In 1939, Governor Ralph Carr appointed him to the Public Utilities Commission.  He married Katherine Lester and they had a son and a daughter.

               Hinkley moved to Denver in 1940 to serve as Deputy Attorney General for Gail Ireland. After winning the job himself in 1944, he promoted Duke Dunbar, the First Assistant, to Deputy Attorney General. The Law Department had 19 Assistant Attorneys General, including two women, Barbara Lee and Penelope Griffin. Hinkley won reelection to a second two-year term in 1946, telling voters there was never a more important time to retain experience.[1]

               As expected, the post war years brought economic prosperity. In 1946, the state’s tax revenues jumped to $43 million from $25 million the year before. But Attorney General Hinkley reported interstate water litigation was declining, which he attributed to greater acceptance by water users of the “compact method of resolving water law cases.”

               In 1945 Hinkley attended a meeting of all states in the Missouri River basin and promptly declared he saw no need to continue the Missouri Valley Authority. Hinkley and Governor John Vance disagreed as to whether a veteran living on a military base in Colorado could run for state office. The Governor thought so, but Hinkley was unsure and promised to seek clarification under federal law. In 1948 Hinkley issued an opinion saying the State of Colorado could not fire employees for political involvement that did not interfere with their jobs. Critics charged that he had “neutered” the state’s “Little Hatch Act.”

               In a speech to the City Club of Denver, Hinkley spoke about an issue that would be relevant for decades to come. He gave the pros and cons of a severance tax on oil. On one hand, he said, oil is a non-renewable natural resource and the state should get a “substantial return” for it. On the other hand, exploration costs are high in Colorado and a severance tax on top of such costs could discourage exploration. He suggested the courts should resolve whether such a tax was an excise tax or an ad valorem tax.

               Hinkley pointed out that voting machines in Denver had posed problems in the last two elections. That issue would also still be of concern 65 years later.[2] Criminal cases handled on appeal included rioting, gambling, abortion, and sodomy, in addition to more conventional crimes of murder, rape, and theft. In Yeager v. Colorado the defendant was charged with “bastardy,” and upon conviction was ordered to pay child support.

               H. Lawrence Hinkley chose not to run for reelection as Attorney General in 1948, opting instead to run for a seat on the Colorado Supreme Court. He was unsuccessful in that year and again when he ran for the Supreme Court in 1950. Secretary of State records indicate he spent $2,031 in his unsuccessful effort in 1948. Hinkley moved to Boulder in 1951. He practiced law and was active in a variety of legal, social, and service organizations. He died suddenly, on June 23, 1962, after suffering a severe asthma attack. He was 66. He is buried in Green Mountain Cemetery in Boulder.


[1] Political Brochure, Denver Public Library, Historical Collection.

[2] Biennial Report of the Attorney General for 1947-1948, Colorado State Archives.