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New AG at the plate

It’s a legal home run for Suthers, Colorado’s 37th AG

By Leigh E. Rich

Colorado’s Chief Justice Mary Mullarkey may have well shouted “Play ball!” after administering John Suthers’ oath of office at his swearing in Monday.

There may be no obvious connection between America’s favorite pastime and American public service, but Suthers bridged that gap in a heartfelt speech after becoming Colorado’s 37th attorney general.

Referencing baseball-great Lou Gehrig’s “luckiest man on the face of the earth” address, given to a packed Yankee Stadium in 1939 after he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Suthers told the much smaller crowd in Colorado’s Old Supreme Court Chambers that he was “very attempted” to quote Gehrig.

“But I won’t do it,” Suthers said.

Instead, he simply intoned, “I’m very fortunate indeed.”

The baseball allusion hit home with Gov. Bill Owens, who beamed proudly as his appointment to fill former AG Ken Salazar’s shoes was made official.

“Like Governor Owens,” Suthers explained to the attendees, “I’m a student of the history of baseball.”

And like Gehrig, who seems to be a personal hero for Colorado’s newest AG, Suthers’ life has not been without its shutouts.

Despite being born in October 1951 to an unwed mother from Ohio and given up for adoption within the first month of life, Suthers says that’s where his luck began.

“Of all places my birth mother could have gone to have her baby,” he said, she was sent to Colorado, where he was adopted by a couple from Colorado Springs.

“I had a very wonderful childhood,” Suthers recalled, though he choked up when talking about his father and mother, both of whom have passed away. Suthers lost his father when he was in high school and his mother in college.

He was adopted again, he said, in a less formal sense by an aunt and uncle. His aunt, widowed since 1990, was present to witness Suthers’ swearing-in.

Suthers also mentioned wife Janet and her family—whom he described as welcoming him with open arms—as members of his winning team.

“Even the Democrats in the family have been known to campaign for me on several occasions,” he winked at his in-laws.

And rounding out the lineup, the attorney general also thanked his two daughters, Alison and Kate, who could not be present at the ceremony. “The demands of law school and the U.S. Navy have made that impossible,” Suthers explained.

Suthers mentioned his family to emphasize that it is often the loved ones of public servants who must make sacrifices.

“I have not viewed public service as a sacrifice for those of us engaged in it,” he said.

Though Suthers traded in his private practice to become the district attorney of Colorado’s Fourth Judicial District in 1988, the change of dugouts perhaps didn’t come as much of a surprise to his wife of 28 years. Suthers said he knew when he graduated from CU’s School of Law as many years ago that he wanted to spend a portion of his career in the public realm.

In 1999, after two terms as district attorney and a two-year return to private counsel, Owens appointed Suthers executive director of Colorado’s Department of Corrections. In 2001, he was nominated by President George W. Bush and sworn in as the U.S. attorney for the state.

“I thought that would be the highlight of my career,” Suthers said Monday, calling the AG nomination by Owens and the confirmation by the Colorado Senate “a great honor and privilege.”

“I really wanted someone to fill Ken’s shoes,” Owens noted while showing Suthers the signed executive order that appoints him attorney general for the remainder of now U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar’s term. If Suthers wants to keep the position, he will have to win a statewide election in 2006.

In selecting Suthers, the governor explained that he sought “a dedicated public servant” with “impeccable integrity” and “who’s very much learned in the law.”

“I found a tailor-made fit in John Suthers,” Owens said.

He also deemed the occasion an exciting one for him. “It’s rare for a Colorado governor to appoint a new attorney general.”

Looking proud but humble —and, well, shorter than Owens and most in attendance—Suthers tolerated two standing ovations, obviously wishing his children and his parents could be present.

“I feel like the New England Patriots,” he said. “I feel like I’ve won the legal trifecta.”

Rich, L. E. (2005, February 11). New AG at the plate: It’s a legal home run for Suthers, Colorado’s 37th AG. The Colorado Statesman, pp. 1, 7.

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