Democratic candidate for state attorney general Phil Weiser said he would join a multistate lawsuit against the maker of OxyContin to recover Colorado’s costs stemming from the opioid epidemic.
At the same time, he said the primary job of the attorney general is to represent the people of Colorado in state and federal courts and to work as a problem-solver with constituents, lawmakers and federal and state agencies to defuse problems before they rise to a court case.
In an interview Monday with The Durango Herald, Weiser, 50, cited the 22-state lawsuit against Purdue Pharma and the effort to require the identification of all political donors as areas where the Attorney General’s Office would differ if voters choose him over his opponent, Republican George Brauchler, in the November election.
“My opponent said it is reckless to bring this lawsuit. I think it’s reckless not to,” he said of suing companies over the opioid epidemic.
Before his Durango visit, Weiser met with Alamosa County Sheriff Robert Jackson, who told him 90 percent of inmates in the county jail suffered from an opioid problem.
“We need a sense of urgency and cooperative problem-solving,” he said about taking court action to deal with the opioid epidemic.
Brauchler said current Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman has a team examining whether to sue Purdue Pharma, and he added that the lawyers investigating the matter are the only people in the proper position to decide whether it is appropriate to join the lawsuit.
“What I think is reckless,” Brauchler said during a phone interview Tuesday, “is to promise to join a lawsuit without knowing the facts to score political points in a campaign.”
Weiser said the job of Colorado’s attorney general can also be important outside a courtroom.
“A good portion of a lawyer’s work is to resolve disputes before they get to court,” he said.
Problem-solving, he said, should require developing bipartisan working relationships wherever policy agreement can be found.
In fact, Weiser said he is broadly supportive of a proposal by his opponent to rewrite the Colorado Open Records Act that would allow the Attorney General’s Office to review a denial of an open-records request.
Currently, the only alternative to a denial of an open-records request is to sue the agency issuing the denial, a move that is costly and time-consuming.
“I’m a lawyer, and it’s not in my nature to support something completely before I’ve read all of the details,” Weiser said. “But the direction is one I am committed to – the details we have to talk about,” he said.
Weiser also would back efforts with like-minded lawmakers to pass a law in Colorado that would require the identification of all donors to organizations and groups that produce political campaign advertisements in an effort to end the use of “dark money” in state elections.
“Part of the challenges we are facing in democratic institutions is the undermining of trust,” he said.
Weiser said $500,000 has been spent in ads for Brauchler by the Republican Attorneys General Association, and much of the donations are dark money that can’t be traced.
Brauchler said 96 percent of the donations he has sought and spent have come from Coloradoans while 20 percent of Weiser’s donations have come from out of state.
“The only thing I can control is the money I seek and spend, and I would ask the professor why he sees a need to reach out of state for money to influence what happens in Colorado,” he said.
Weiser who is married to Heidi Wald, a physician, and they have two children, Aviva, 14, and Sammy 10.
He has clerked for David Ebel, a Reagan appointee, on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver and for Supreme Court justices Byron White and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
[email protected]An earlier version of this story misspelled the last names of Judge David Ebel and former President Ronald Reagan.