District attorney is not a job for the faint of heart. Ask Stan Garnett (Hist’78, Law’82).
In March, Garnett, the Boulder County District Attorney, was faced with a ghastly attack on a pregnant woman in nearby Longmont. The mother survived; the fetus died. Garnett had to decide whether to charge the alleged perpetrator, a woman, with homicide.
He decided he couldn’t: There was no way to prove the child was ever alive outside the mother, as required under Colorado law for fetal homicide.
“Many people in the community, and heaven knows I’ve heard from a lot of them, would like me to have filed homicide charges,’’ Garnett said in public remarks quoted by the New York Times.
He filed a raft of other charges instead, including attempted murder.
“This case, while so tragic, provides us with an opportunity to explain to the public what our job is,” he tells the Coloradan. “The rule of the law is the same for everyone. We don’t make it up as we go along.”
Garnett, who grew up in Boulder and was elected DA in 2008, supervises a team of 75, including 30 lawyers. The DA’s office prosecuted about 2,000 felonies last year, some as grave as rape, assault and murder, others more commonplace.
“I like to take as many cases to trial as possible for the community to decide,” Garnett says.
His deputies handle most of the cases, but Garnett will try those that are of personal interest, have symbolic value or are unusually complex. As DA he’s tried two homicides, for example, as well as a Boulder police officer’s illegal shotgun killing of an elk in a residential neighborhood.
Garnett began his career as an intern in the Denver District Attorney’s office in the early 1980s and cites Brooke Wunnicke (Law’45), then chief deputy of appeals in the office, as a mentor. After graduation he joined the office as a deputy DA and tried about 100 cases from 1982-86.
“I’m one of the few people you’ll ever meet who say they loved every minute of law school,” says Garnett. “It brought together lots of strains in my life — an interest in language, the desire to help the world become a better place and a love of storytelling.”
In the mid-1980s he entered private practice and worked 22 years at the Denver firm of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, specializing in complex litigation. Handling a case for John Elway involving his Denver car dealerships — and winning it at the Colorado Supreme Court — holds a special place in his memory.
Garnett, who served two terms on the Boulder Valley School District board, ran unopposed for Boulder DA in 2008 and 2012. He ran unsuccessfully for Colorado Attorney General in 2010.
These days, Stan Garnett isn’t Colorado’s only elected Garnett: In November, his son, Alec (MPubAd’08), won a seat in the Colorado House of Representatives.
Photo courtesy Boulder County District Attorney’s Office