Voters decided last Tuesday that Phil Weiser will become the state’s next attorney general in January. And when he takes over, his office will have a new top litigator.
Fred Yarger, the Colorado solicitor general under Attorney General Cynthia Coffman returned to private practice today as a partner at the Denver office of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher.
Yarger’s practice will build upon his appellate and litigation experience he put to work defending the state in court for the attorney general, and he will put that prior experience to use. He previously worked in the Washington, D.C., and Denver offices of Gibson Dunn.
Although he is just putting his private practice focus together after spending time in the public sector, he said he will ideally be focused on a mix of general litigation, commercial litigation, regulatory work and appellate law. During an interview with Law Week in October, Yarger said it was time to make decisions about where to go next. “Gibson Dunn was attractive to me. I really think it’s one of the best full service firms in the country. And on the litigation side, especially, it’s really hard to beat.”
He cited the Denver office’s stable of young partners he’ll be working with directly as well as the group of standout lawyers across the country as reasons for rejoining the firm.
“They have a broad-based appellate practice where they have superstars in every market — New York, D.C., Texas, California — so it’s a tremendous group of appellate lawyers within that litigation department,” he said. “And so me coming from the general litigation background with some particular appellate expertise just made a lot of sense.”
As he moves on with his private practice career, he said his experience in public service was particularly useful and fun for him. During his time as solicitor general, he visited the U.S. Supreme Court on multiple occasions and served during a period where state attorneys general around the country were becoming increasingly active in federal lawsuits.
He said while working under both Cynthia Coffman and her predecessor, John Suthers, he had the opportunity to work on major issues with societal impacts.
He represented the state on water issues, including environmental disputes with the State of New Mexico, challenges to Colorado’s marijuana laws from neighbor states and criminal procedure issues that affected states across the country.
And although he said there was no one particular case that stood out as a primary accomplishment, he said the trips to the U.S. Supreme Court are highlights. “Every single time [I] stand up in front of the court, [I] say, ‘I am Fred Yarger, I’m here representing the state of Colorado.’ It just fills you with a lot of pride,” he said. “Looking back at that and the opportunity to argue Supreme Court cases — which is just for a small state like Colorado pretty rare — I think I’ll probably always look back on that and just shake my head and say, ‘Well, how lucky was I to get to do that?’”
Those trips before the Supreme Court also illustrated the confluence of litigation and policy. Many cases were high-profile, and sometimes highly political. “Those cases, no matter what, they’re always highly watched, there’s always a sort of a political element to them in the sense that you’re going to have two sides of these issues, and they have policy implications,” he said. “But my job was always right down the lane, right down the middle, just do your best, work hard and represent the state the best you can. And that was always the message that General Coffman gave me, and her predecessor.”
Coffman said Yarger has a bright future ahead.“Fred is an exceptionally gifted attorney and possesses one of the brightest legal minds I’ve ever encountered,” she said. “He also is a person of great integrity with a deep commitment and respect for the rule of law. Fred served Colorado with distinction and the people were fortunate to have him as Solicitor General for the last four years. I personally am grateful for his dedication, leadership and unparalleled work ethic. There’s no doubt Fred will go on to do great things.”
Now, in transitioning back to private practice, Yarger said he will have to focus on building a book of business — something he couldn’t do as a public sector litigator — and get up to speed with the firm’s clients. He said he’s looking to build bridges between some of the firm’s offices in energy-centric markets. And he said he believes Gibson Dunn has demonstrated that it will help him do that. The firm has a track record of getting former public sector attorneys up to speed, including former Federal Trade Commission attorney Richard Cunningham, who is also in the Denver office, and former state solicitors general in other offices.
“It’s something you think about, but you want to find a firm that respects and understands what it means to be a government attorney making that transition and supports them, and they definitely do that,” Yarger said. •
— Tony Flesor, [email protected]