Jerry Kopel

Doug and Charles are leaving the legislature. Both surnames are Brown, but Charles and Doug are not related. For those who may not know it, only two persons have been in charge of Legal Services as a legislative agency, Jim Wilson and Doug Brown.

Back in 1927, the legislature established the Legislative Reference Office to be part of the staff of the attorney general. Point of the new law was to relieve, as much as possible, the attorney general's main office on the first floor (not the basement) of the capitol building which had been involved in drafting bills. The separation placed the drafting office "in a suitable office in the state capitol as to be convenient to the members of the General Assembly."

I happen to know something about the Legislative Reference Office. Six months after graduating from the University of Denver Law School in 1958, I was visiting one of my favorite professors, "Chizzie" Works in his office. He asked if I wanted some part time legal work. "Of course" I replied, since the new law firm of Kopel and Kopel could use the money.

Works got on the phone with Attorney General Duke Dunbar. "I've got someone in my office who will fit your needs" said Prof. Works. "He's Jewish but he's clean cut."

So I became one of three lawyers made special assistant attorneys general, assigned to work in the Legislative Reference Office, where the brains of the outfit belonged to the chief secretary, Claire Sippel, who could draft bills faster than you could blink.

She was held in such esteem by legislators (she was tough and smart) that they considered making her a lawyer by passing a statute.

She wasn't an attorney, but she had all the skills. We had one of the larger suites on the third floor, two big offices and one small one. The other large office contained a dozen or more typists including several who went on to serve the House, such as chief House Clerk Lorraine Lombardi. Claire and the elderly attorney in charge were in the big room. Jerry Smith, the other new young employee, and I shared the smaller room.

And THAT was the drafting office. In 1958 we started working several months before the legislative session began. Once it did, we never went out for lunch, since lunch hour was the time legislators would drop by to propose a bill. We had no copy machines, no computers, just a desk, pen and pencil, a typewriter and the statute books. A separate office, called the Reviser of Statutes, was supposed to help us, but I never saw anyone.

In 1958-1959, we turned out as many bills, resolutions, etc., as now, (876) but we had to depend greatly on lobbyists supplying us with bill drafts, and then use our own judgment on what to change.

I did this work for the 1959, and 1960 legislative sessions. Since bills in 1960 depended on the "Governor's Call" we only did 151 bills. Later that year, Dunbar hired Jim Wilson as a full time director and I was out of a part-time job.

Wilson, of course, went from a very small staff to the present day Legal Services Office in the capitol basement. But when I entered the General Assembly as a legislator in 1965, Claire and Jim were still working on the third floor.

Wilson retired in 1980 and Doug Brown was appointed head of the drafting office. By then legal services had long since been sheared away from the attorney general's office. SB 396, sponsored by Sen. Allen Dines (D) and Rep. Jean Bain (R) in 1969 placed the drafting office under legislative control. So it was Wilson, in 1960 to 1980, and Doug Brown from 1980 to 2003.

The Colorado Legislative Council began in 1953. Lyle Kyle came into the office in 1958 and there have only been three directors of that office over the past 45 years: Kyle, Dave Morrissey and Charles Brown.

No one and no office is perfect, but in all those decades, I can recall only one very serious mistake by each office. Legislative Council tried to make the passage of a bill (after the legislature adjourned) contingent upon a monetary decision by a council staff member. The drafting office made the mistake of depending on the District Attorneys to ensure that new laws would not interfere with keeping certain sexual predators under supervision.

John Straayer, a respected author on Colorado politics told the Denver Post in looking to the future "If you got people who had political agendas or political motivation, it would destroy the trust of information coming out of the staff" pointing to the politicized staff in California.

The executive committee of Legislative Council will choose the council director and Legal Services Committee will chose their new director. I expect both new directors will continue the fine work of the past, hopefully without interference by politics.

(Jerry Kopel served 22 years in the Colorado House.)

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