District Attorney Stan Garnett is resigning two years into his third and final term as Boulder County’s top prosecutor to take a senior partner position at a private law firm in Denver.
Garnett, 61, on Thursday announced he will leave the office at the end of February to join the litigation department at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, the firm that employed him before he was elected district attorney in 2009.
“After talking about what they had in mind I decided it was an opportunity I would be crazy to pass up,” Garnett said. “I’m now in my 10th year (as district attorney). I feel like I’ve given a lot to the community in public service.”
Garnett sent a letter to Gov. John Hickenlooper on Thursday informing the governor of his decision; Hickenlooper now will select a replacement DA.
“We are delighted to welcome Stan back to the firm,” said Adam Agron, Brownstein’s managing partner, in a statement. “Our firm was built on a commitment to public service and we have no doubt that our clients and colleagues will benefit from Stan’s experience and exceptional record leading Boulder’s district attorney’s office.”
Garnett said law firms began approaching him soon after the November 2016 election, when voters defeated a measure that would have given him the ability to seek a fourth term.
“My third term will be up when I’m 64,” he said. “I love being a lawyer and I anticipate working into my 70s, so I’ve been looking at different options.”
The job at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck is not one that can wait, so Garnett said he can’t finish out his term, which would have run through the end of 2020. But with more than nine years under his belt, Garnett already is the second-longest tenured Boulder County district attorney since statehood.
“The timing is a little earlier than I would have liked, because I really enjoyed being district attorney,” he said. “On the other hand, when you look at the history of district attorneys since term limits, it’s reasonable timing.”
For now, Garnett will turn his attention to helping Hickenlooper’s office select a replacement, who will finish out the rest of Garnett’s term. He’s hoping a successor will be named before the end of the month so he will have some time to work side-by-side with the new DA and ease the transition.
Garnett could not say who might be in line for the top prosecutor’s slot, other than, “There are a number of people who very much would like this job.”
Whoever takes his place will have a busy year ahead, with five homicide trials currently scheduled to take place in 2018 and another homicide case making its way through the system.
But Garnett, who is not the trial lawyer on any of those cases, said he thinks the office will be fine, even with the busy schedule.
“We’ve been able to build a terrific team of excellent trial lawyers from top to bottom, led right now by (assistant district attorneys) Ken Kupfner and Katharina Booth,” he said. “I’m confident we have the excellent staff we need to handle all of those cases.”
‘He will truly be missed’
Upon taking office in 2009, and succeeding Alex Hunter and Mary Lacy, Garnett said he saw two areas that needed improvement.
“When I took over the office, I felt the office wasn’t in touch enough with the community and we weren’t going to trial enough,” he said.
To remedy that, Garnett sought to make Boulder County a place that both attracted experienced trial attorneys and also trained new ones.
“Boulder is not a high crime jurisdiction, though we have plenty of crime,” he said. “But we do have a fair number of what I call marquee cases. Cases that are covered closely by the Denver press, and sometimes by national press, that are complicated and difficult cases. I always wanted to make sure we had the kind of lawyers in my office who could handle those cases.”
Boulder police Chief Greg Testa said that willingness to prosecute cases endeared him to law enforcement.
“I have appreciated Stan very much and the work he has done to build trust and a solid working relationship between the DA’s office and law enforcement in the county,” Testa said. “His office was not afraid to take cases to trial and he made good sound decisions in applying the law.”
One of the lawyers Garnett brought in was Ryan Brackley, who was a homicide prosecutor in New York who became Garnett’s Assistant District Attorney and was a lead prosecutor on many of the district’s big cases before leaving for the Denver DA’s office last year.
“When Stan contacted me in the summer of 2008 I was intrigued by the opportunity to go to the Boulder DA’s Office with him and help to transform that office into what would be one of the great DA’s offices in Colorado,” Brackley said, adding that Garnett had a unique set of skills as a result of being at a private firm and being elected to a school board in addition to his work as a prosecutor.
“He drew from his diverse experience,” Brackley said. “He brought a new and unique vision to how a public law office should run.”
Garnett said he has always tried to encourage residents to voice any concerns to his office, and be a visible presence in the community at speaking events.
“My view is that, as an elected official, I should talk to anybody who wants to talk to me,” he said. “I will miss the debate, and I will miss engaging those people.”
Garnett did admit, though, that he would not miss being a publicly elected official at all hours of the day.
“Boulder is a community with a lot of people who have opinions about everything, and some of them have a lot of time on their hands,” he said. “I do sometimes get a little tired of walking through Whole Foods on a Sunday afternoon and somebody taking me aside and wanting to talk about something. That’s fine as an elected official. But I won’t miss that.”
Garnett also said he is proud of the work his office has done in community protection, sexual-assault and cold-case prosecution.
“Stan Garnett has raised the bar in Boulder County when it comes to the quality of prosecutions, hiring and promoting great staff, public transparency, and the relationship the DA’s office has with law enforcement,” Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said in a statement. “Under Stan’s leadership, the DA’s office focused intently on protecting the rights of the disenfranchised and vulnerable populations in our communities. He will truly be missed.
“However, I understand the need look out for himself and his family in the future, and this sounds like a wonderful opportunity.”
One thing Garnett said he wishes he had been able to do in his time in office was make more progress on the physical remodeling of the Boulder County Justice Center.
“The office is very inadequate for a modern law office, and I’ve been working with the county to get that remodeled since I became the DA,” Garnett said. “It’s been a long, slow process.”
‘There is an energy to the pursuit of justice’
Garnett has at times flirted with the idea of leaving the Boulder DA’s Office during his term, though most of his possible destinations in the past had been other elected or appointed positions.
He made a run for attorney general in 2010, and mulled running again in 2018 but ultimately decided against it. He also decided not to run for Jared Polis’ Congressional seat but did not rule out a run for Congress in 2020.
While he is leaving public office for now, Garnett said he would not rule out returning at some point.
“I’m going to enjoy this for a few more years, but if my health holds up, I enjoy being involved in public debate,” he said.
Brackley said he was surprised to hear that Garnett went back to private practice.
“At the same time, Stan and I always told our staff to look for bigger and better things and embrace the opportunity to grow,” Brackley said. “I’m glad Stan was willing to follow his own advice and follow his heart.”
Garnett said the new job will allow him to possibly help the firm expand into Mexico and Latin America. He also said he is looking forward to being able to handle cases in different jurisdictions.
“I’ll miss working in Boulder, but occasionally Boulder becomes a little insular,” Garnett said. “It sort of forgets that there is a rest of the world out there. That’s one of the things that struck me the minute I became DA: these folks need to get out more, there are other counties, other judicial districts, other states where we can learn from what they do.
“I enjoy handling cases in other jurisdictions where nobody knows who you are.”
But Garnett said his staff in Boulder is what he will miss the most when he leaves.
“I’m going to miss the people, the people in my office who work very hard in not-always-easy conditions to do the right thing in court,” he said. “They are wonderful people, and there is an energy to the pursuit of justice in a DA’s office that is a wonderful thing to be around.”
As for advice for the person who takes Garnett’s place?
“I’m a strong believer that he American justice system is excellent,” Garnett said. “If a district has excellent lawyers on both sides of the podium and strong judges, justice will be done in almost every case. I hope the office will continue the tradition of professionalism and excellence I think we’ve established.”
Mitchell Byars: 303-473-1329, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/mitchellbyars