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J.D. MacFarlane, J.D.

Former Colorado AG Known As Smart, Hardworking, Incorruptible

 You win some, you lose some. This truism is surely something that has helped J.D. MacFarlane maintain his perspective through a long and distinguished legal career.

But two recent setbacks were particularly painful. A lawsuit in which MacFarlane was the lead plaintiff to postpone or cancel a massive water drainage project at City Park Golf Course, went down in flames. Another lawsuit in which he consulted, which would have forced the city to rethink the widening of Interstate 70, was also unsuccessful.

MacFarlane did celebrate a smaller victory when a large-scale playground proposed for the west end of City Park was abandoned by the city after significant neighborhood pushback four years ago.

“I don’t think we should be messing around with the parks,” says MacFarlane. “Let them be what they’re supposed to be.

“As far as I-70 goes, I don’t understand why they couldn’t move it farther north. I’m not convinced the city or CDOT really explored that possibility. The city was just bound and determined to go ahead, pretending to get local feedback.”

Long arm of justice

The defenders of the park and the neighborhoods that will be affected by I-70 could not have found a more qualified advocate/attorney than MacFarlane to plead their case. He is deeply respected in legal circles and was one of the state’s most influential politicians in the seventies and eighties.

He graduated from Harvard, has a law degree from Stanford, and was an advisor to the Chief of Staff at the Pentagon. He served two terms in the Colorado House of Representatives, a term as state senator, and eight years as the state’s Attorney General, where he left an indelible mark of reform.

After his career in the AG’s office, he served in a variety of legal positions, including Denver Manager of Public Safety. He once explored the possibility of running for governor. He has served with, and occasionally opposed, a variety of political big shots, including Dick Lamm and Dale Tooley.

Dancing and the law

I spent a couple of hours recently with MacFarlane and his wife Janet. They live in a handsome two-story Georgian brick house on a huge lot in the heart of the Park Hill Historic District.

Janet MacFarlane had careers in dance and law. Born in Pasadena, she moved to New York to work with several ballet companies in New York City, toured Europe, then attended Barnard College. She went back to California, enrolled at Stanford, and danced in the Los Angeles Ballet Company, met J.D. and earned her law degree. She practiced law in one form or another from 1963 to 2000. From 1979 to 1989, Janet was Standing Chapter 13 Trustee for the District of Colorado.

John Dee MacFarlane was born in Pueblo in 1933. Growing up in a blue-collar pro-labor-union town deeply influenced his political views. He became and remains a classical populist Democrat. One of his heroes is Adlai Stevenson, two-time unsuccessful presidential candidate.

The MacFarlanes have three children – Jennifer is a DPS teacher at Florence Crittenden, John teaches high school computer science in California, Andrew works for a home entertainment firm in Denver.

Spoiling Dick’s view

MacFarlane is credited by many with reinventing the office of the AG office in the seventies and early eighties.

“J.D. ‘cleaned up’ the Attorney General’s office in terms of introducing more efficiency, better communication among staff, and better relations with the local district attorneys,” says Rich Nathan, who worked alongside MacFarlane. “He was very smart, extremely hard-working, incorruptible. The office was very political before he came on the scene.”

Steve Phillips, a Park Hillian since 1972 who also worked with MacFarlane at the AG office, says the attorneys and other staff were a “rag mop group” before MacFarlane came along.

“Some of the attorneys were part-time,” Phillips says. “The operations were very disjointed, not nearly as professional as they should have been. He hired more full-time attorneys and consolidated things. He accelerated the use of computers. And he did it all without spending more money. In fact, he generated revenue by providing legal services to other government departments, which was a new concept.”

MacFarlane and then-Gov. Lamm worked well together, but did clash over the issue of image. “I drove a 1952 Chevy that did show a little age,” says MacFarlane. “I parked it right out in front of the Capitol building and apparently it spoiled Dick’s view. He requested politely that I consider parking the car elsewhere, or get a paint job, or perhaps buy a new car. I did none of the above.”

The late Dale Tooley, who was the Denver District Attorney, and MacFarlane engaged in a prolonged legal battle in the late seventies that went all the way to the Colorado Supreme Court. The dispute was technical, but basically related to how much power the AG office had relative to local district attorneys. Tooley, also a resident of Park Hill, won his argument in court, but it did not affect the friendship he had with MacFarlane.

Tolerated, but not encouraged

Needless to say, the MacFarlanes have watched the recent Supreme Court hearings with alarm. It was a foregone conclusion that Trump’s nominees would go through, but the process was terrible,” says Janet.

“I believe Christine Blasey [Ford] told the truth when she testified. If Judge Kavanaugh had admitted he could have engaged in some kind of inappropriate behavior, he would have had more credibility.”

The MacFarlanes are a bit pessimistic about the national political scene. They think President Trump might hang on if the Democrats don’t nominate the right candidate next year. They’re partial to Joe Biden.

They’re relieved that Denver’s recent bid for the Winter Olympics fell through. “I agreed with Dick Lamm when he led the fight against it in 1976,” J.D. says. “It was a bad idea then and it’s a bad idea now.”

Every Thursday morning, MacFarlane and a half dozen or so of his friends – several of them legal scholars – get together. They pontificate, debate and agonize over the state of the city and humanity. Republican views are tolerated, but not encouraged.

“We’re definitely a bunch of liberals,” says MacFarlane. “We’ve been talking a lot about the future of Park Hill Golf Course. I realize it could be a logical site for more housing. But we need to keep as much open space as possible.”


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