Prosecutor Michael Dougherty jumps in Democratic primary for attorney general

Author: Ernest Luning - May 24, 2017 - Updated: May 25, 2017

Democratic attorney general candidate Michael Dougherty (Photo courtesy Dougherty campaign)
Democratic attorney general candidate Michael Dougherty (Photo courtesy Dougherty campaign)

Michael Dougherty, the deputy district attorney for Jefferson and Gilpin counties, announced this week he’s seeking the Democratic nomination for attorney general in next year’s election.

“The attorney general has to be above politics and do the right thing for all the people of Colorado,” Dougherty said. “Consumer protection, public safety, and transparency of government are nonpartisan issues, and I plan to work with people from all across Colorado to make real progress.”

Dougherty is entering a growing primary field. State Rep. Joe Salazar, a Thornton Democrat, announced in March that he’s running for the office, and earlier this month Phil Weiser, a former dean of the University of Colorado Law School and one-time Obama administration official, joined the race.

Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, the Republican incumbent, has been raising money for a reelection bid, but she’s said she’s considering a run for governor in 2018 and hasn’t formally announced her plans.

“We face serious challenges as a state and a nation,” Dougherty told The Colorado Statesman. “We need an attorney general with experience as a prosecutor and a leader with an absolute commitment to doing the right thing for all the people of Colorado.”

Dougherty said he was inspired to seek statewide office in part because of the “chaos and dysfunction” he sees at the federal level. “The attorney general’s office plays such an important role of all of Colorado,” he added. “And the issues that matter in one way or another flow through the attorney general’s office.”

While the other two Democrats running for the office have made a point of regularly calling out President Donald Trump and the Republican administration, Dougherty brushed off a question about whether he was moved to run because of Trump’s election.

“It’s too easy to point out problems, and we have a lot of people doing that,” he said. “I think we need someone who can unite people and make progress.”

Dougherty cut his teeth as a prosecutor in New York City for a dozen years starting in the late 1990s — when crime there was at an all-time in the city, he notes — before former Attorney General John Suthers, Coffman’s Republican predecessor, recruited Dougherty to come to Colorado to supervise the Colorado DNA Justice Review Project. (The initiative led to the 2012 exoneration and release of Robert Dewey, who served 17 years in prison for the rape and murder of 19-year-old Palisades woman Jacie Taylor, crimes more sophisticated DNA testing proved he didn’t commit.)

A few months into that job, Suthers promoted him to run the office’s Criminal Justice Section, where he supervised units including Special Prosecutions, Environmental Crimes, Financial Fraud and the Peace Officer Standards and Training Unit. Soon before Suthers left office, Dougherty went to work as the No. 2 prosecutor for the 1st Judicial District, which covers Jefferson and Gilpin counties.

He said a top priority if elected would be to open a regional office on the Western Slope. “A statewide leader should connect with, and listen to, people all around the state,” Dougherty said.

Dougherty sits on the board of the National District Attorneys Association and has served on the Colorado Best Practices Committee for Prosecutors. He’s taught at the University of Colorado Law School, the University of Denver Sturm School of Law and at Fordham University. The Innocence Project honored him with the Award for Advocate for Innocence and Justice.

The son of working-class parents, Dougherty grew up in Seaford, New York, and worked for UPS and at a delicatessen while attending Nassau Community College. He went on to get his undergraduate degree from Cornell University and his law degree from the Boston University School of Law. He and his wife, Antonia, a former prosecutor, live in Boulder with their 9-year-old twins. An avid trail runner, Dougherty has twice completed the Leadville 100-Mile Trail Run, as well as other ultramarathons around the state.

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning is a political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has covered politics and government for newspapers and online news sites in Colorado for more than 25 years, including at the Highlands Ranch Herald, the Jefferson Sentinels chain of community newspapers and the Aurora Sentinel, where he was the city hall and cops reporter. After editing the Aurora Daily Sun, he was a political reporter and blogger for The Colorado Independent site. For nearly a decade, he was a senior political reporter and occasional editor at The Colorado Statesman before the 119-year-old publication merged with Colorado Politics in 2017.