The general election of 1916 was a successful one for the Democrats. Julius C. Gunter was elected Governor and 37-year-old Leslie Hubbard, a protégé of Fred Farrar, was elected Attorney General.
Leslie Elmer Hubbard was born in 1879 in New London, Connecticut where his family had lived since 1678. While little is known of his youth, it appears that his family was well educated and affluent. Hubbard received a law degree in 1900 from Yale, passed the bar the next year and began practicing in Meriden, Connecticut. A few years later he headed west and set up a law practice in Pagosa Springs, Colorado. In 1912 he moved to Denver. The following year he went to work for the Colorado Attorney General’s Office as an inheritance tax appraiser. In 1915 he married Adele Eaton of Bayfield, Colorado. He also became a member of the State Board of Education.
Upon his election as Colorado’s eighteenth Attorney General in November of 1916, the Pagosa Springs Sun reported, “From a humble lawyer in Pagosa Springs four years ago to the most important legal office is some jump.” Remarkably, one of Hubbard’s appointments as Assistant Attorney General was a woman, Clara Ruth Mozzor. Her appointment was notable not only because she was one of very few women lawyers in Colorado, but because she was also Jewish. The event merited mention in that year’s version of the American Jewish Yearbook. Others on the Attorney General’s staff included Deputy Charles Roach and Assistants Irving Van Brodt, John Schweigert, Richard Ryan, Ralph Kerwin, and Bertram Bashoar. Roach would become a fixture in the Attorney General’s Office.
One of the first things Hubbard did as Attorney General was to create a Legislative Reference and Bill Drafting Department. Although the office would not be officially sanctioned by the legislature for another ten years, it was busy from the outset. In that year’s session three quarters of legislators consulted the office and his staff reviewed over 400 bills.
By 1916 Colorado’s mineral production had reached $80 million per year. With the United States entering World War I in Europe, Hubbard considered it crucial that he help resolve the labor unrest lingering in Colorado’s coalfields after the strikes of 1913 and 1914, which had precipitated the Ludlow Massacre. He undertook “a painstaking examination and investigation” into some of the pending criminal cases that had been filed because of the strikes. He stated that “to see justice done, rather than make an unbroken record of convictions regardless of justice, has been my constant aim.” The Attorney General’s Office confessed error in several strike-related cases before the State Supreme Court. The Court commended his action. Additionally, the office dismissed some cases pending in the state’s District Courts; “a discharge of plain duty,” Hubbard called it.
Attorney General Hubbard spent considerable time issuing opinions on the scope and effect of Colorado’s Horton Law, which made Colorado a “dry state” by prohibiting sale and use of intoxicating liquors. The state’s temperance movement was strong and Hubbard aided it by opining that property rights did not exist in liquor and the state was fully authorized to prohibit interstate shipment of liquor into the state. The state’s position was largely vindicated in court, except for the assertion that the Horton Law was retroactive.
Hubbard also interpreted Colorado’s non-support statute to mandate that children born out of wedlock were entitled to financial support from their fathers, and that common law wives were entitled to spousal support upon a divorce in the same manner as wives from ceremonial marriages. The Attorney General’s Office successfully defended this position in the State Supreme Court and allowed Hubbard to assert that “the law is now well settled in this state.”
Hubbard was ahead of his time in his concern about water pollution. In the summer of 1918 his staff, along with representatives of the State Board of Health, the Game and Fish Department, and the Agricultural College (now CSU) investigated the San Miguel River in southwest Colorado. Mill tailings from mines in Telluride were polluting the river and raising health concerns for the people using the lower reaches of the river for drinking water and irrigation. The investigation culminated in a report to Governor Gunter in which Hubbard called the problem “one of perplexing difficulty requiring action by the legislature.” Decades later, in 1983, the Attorney General’s Office, under the federal Superfund law, would file suit over contamination from mill tailings around Telluride requiring cleanup of the San Miguel.
Hubbard continued the ongoing effort of several of his predecessors to reinvestigate “irregularities” in the accounts of former State Treasurers. An audit discovered that a long time “trusted employee” had embezzled $45,000 over multiple administrations. That was a shocking sum at the time. Hubbard insisted an adequate system of accounting and audit be established.
Hubbard believed, as would most of his successors, that interstate water cases “involving a defense of the rights of Colorado and her citizens” were the most important matters handled by his office. He pointed out that Colorado was always the defendant in water cases “resisting attacks against her established rights.” During his term the office defended four suits involving the Laramie River and Wyoming, the South Platte and Republican Rivers and Nebraska, and the Arkansas River and Kansas. The most urgent of the cases was Wyoming v. Colorado over the Laramie River. Wyoming had filed suit in 1910, attempting to block a privately built trans-basin diversion of Laramie River water to farmlands around Greeley. During the previous six years the case had been briefed and argued. But in March of 1917, the U. S. Supreme Court ordered the case restored to the docket, rebriefed and argued in January of 1918. The case was not decided until after a third oral argument in 1922. Though it held that Wyoming’s claim that trans-basin diversions were unlawful in prior appropriation states was “untenable,” the Court’s highly technical opinion ultimately held that Wyoming’s appropriations had senior priority to Colorado’s diversion project, which was limited to 15,500 acre feet per year. As is the case in most western water wars, the dispute did not end there. The states were back before the U. S. Supreme Court in 1936, 1940 and 1957.
By 1918 Colorado agricultural production had grown dramatically to meet war needs as had molybdenum mining in Leadville. Attorney General Hubbard ran for reelection in 1918. He ran on a platform that war profiteering equated to treason and that he would help restrain cost of living increases for Colorado’s families. But he was closely associated with the very unpopular Governor Gunter, who was viewed as pro-German and did not even get his party’s nomination for a second term. Hubbard did get the Democratic nomination but lost the general election to Republican Victor Keyes on November 5, 1918, six days before World War I ended.
Hubbard pursued a private practice in Denver and remained involved in several interstate water cases, working with his successor as well as a former Attorney General, Fred Farrar. He worked on both the Laramie River and Republican River cases, both of which were resolved adverse to Colorado.
In 1927, Leslie Hubbard moved to Los Angeles where he remained active in Democratic politics. He served as a delegate to the National Convention that nominated Adlai Stevenson in 1952. On July 16, 1962, Hubbard collapsed on a street in Hollywood and died on his way to the hospital. He was 83.